Professor Richard Norman

Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy


Professor Richard Norman is Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy. 

His work has been mainly in the areas of ethics and political philosophy. His book The Moral Philosophers, which has been widely used in courses on moral philosophy, is a critical introduction to the history of ethics, leading to a defence of a form of ethical naturalism. His conception of values as grounded in shared human experience underpins his subsequent work in ethics and political philosophy. 

Richard's book Free and Equal defends a radically egalitarian political philosophy which aims to reconcile the supposedly conflicting values of freedom and equality. His book Ethics, Killing and War argues for pacificism, a position which is distinct from absolute pacifism but recognises how difficult it is to provide any moral justification for war. In On Humanism (Routledge, 2004), his commitment to shared human values is located within a popular exposition and defence of a non-religious outlook.



  • Norman, R. (2007). Particularism and Reasons: A Reply to Kirchin. Journal of Moral Philosophy [Online] 4:33-39. Available at:
    Valency switching can appear especially puzzling if we think of moral reasons
    as 'pushes and pulls'—considerations whose job it is to get us to act
    or to stop us acting. Talk of 'default valency' doesn't remove the puzzle, it
    merely restates it. We need a different picture of reasons—perhaps as
    providing a map of the moral terrain which helps us to see which actions
    are appropriate to which situations, and who the appropriate agents are.
    The role of virtue concepts in particular is more complex and varied than
    that of providing 'reasons for acting'. A more holistic picture of reasons
    can make valency switching less mysterious.
  • Norman, R. (2006). The Varieties of Non-Religious Experience. Ratio [Online] 19:474-494. Available at:
    I want to consider the suggestion that certain essential components of human experience are by their nature distinctively religious, and thus that the atheist is either debarred from participating fully in such experiences, or fails to understand their real nature. I am going to look at five kinds of experience:

    • the experience of the moral 'ought';
    • the experience of beauty;
    • the experience of meaning conferred by stories;
    • the experience of otherness and transcendence;
    • the experience of vulnerability and fragility.

    These seem to me to be integral features of any meaningful human life. They are aspects of what it is to be human. Some theists would simply agree with that statement. Others, however, would say that though essentially human they are also essentially religious, and that the secular humanist's participation in such experiences is in some way defective. That is the claim which I want to consider and contest.
  • Norman, R. (2004). Can there be a just war?. Think [Online]:7-15. Available at:
  • Norman, R. (2003). "Swinburne’s Arguments from Design". Think:35-41.
  • Norman, R. (2002). Equality, Envy, and the Sense of Injustice. Journal of Applied Philosophy [Online] 19:43-54. Available at:
    This paper attempts to defend the value of equality against the accusation that it
    is an expression of irrational and disreputable feelings of envy of those who are better off. It
    draws on Rawls’ account of the sense of justice to suggest that resentment of inequalities may
    be a proper resentment of injustice. The case of resentment of ‘free riders’ is taken as one
    plausible example of a justified resentment of those who benefit unfairly from a scheme of
    cooperation. Further examples then link the case of the free rider to other cases of unjust
    inequalities which are the appropriate objects of resentment and indignation.
  • Norman, R. (2001). Criteria of Justice: Desert, Needs and Equality. Res Publica [Online] 7:115-136. Available at:
    The conception of social justice as equality is defended in this paper by examining what may appear to be two inegalitarian conceptions of justice, as distribution according to desert and as distribution according to need. It is argued that claims of just entitlement arise within a context of reciprocal co-operation for mutual benefit. Within such a context there are special cases where it can be said that those who contribute more deserve more, and that those who need more should get more, but those claims themselves presuppose a norm of equal contribution and equal benefit.
  • Norman, R. (2001). Pratical Reasons and the Redundancy of Motives. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice [Online] 4:3-22. Available at:
    Jonathan Dancy, in his 1994 Aristotelian Society Presidential Address, set out to show ''why there is really no such thing as the theory of motivation''. In this paper I want to agree that there is no such thing, and to offer reasons of a different kind for that conclusion. I shall suggest that the so-called lsquotheory of motivationrsquo misconstrues the question which it purports to answer, and that when we properly analyse the question and distinguish it clearly from other questions with which it should not be confused, we do not need a theory of motivation at all.
  • Norman, R. (2001). Wants, Reasons and Liberalism. Res Publica [Online] 8:81-91. Available at:
  • Norman, R. (2000). Public reasons and the ’private language’ argument. Philosophical Investigations [Online] 23:292-314. Available at:
    The author defends his version of the parallel which can be drawn between Wittgenstein's 'private language' argument and the argument that practical reasons must necessarily be public reasons. This position is compared and contrasted with recent attempts by Christine Korsgaard and Ken O'Day to formulate a 'public reasons' argument. The position is defended against the criticism that it cannt account for the practical force of reasons. Finally it is argued that, although the claim that the reasons must be 'public' is not to be confused with the claim that reasons must be 'other-regarding', the former claim does help to remove certain obstacles to the idea of other-regarding reasons.
  • Norman, R. (1999). Equality, priority and social justice. Ratio [Online] 12:178-194. Available at:
  • Norman, R. (1997). The social basis of equality. Ratio [Online] 10:238-252. Available at:
  • Norman, R. (1997). Making sense of moral realism. Philosophical Investigations [Online] 20:117-135. Available at:
  • Norman, R. (1997). Cooperation and equality: Reply. Philosophy 72:137-142.
  • Norman, R. (1995). No End to Equality. Journal of Philosophy of Education 29:421-431.
    John White argues that 'egalitarianism, in education as elsewhere, is a will-o'-the-wisp'.(1) He claims that recent defences of egalitarianism, among which he kindly includes my own along with those of Thomas Nagel and Kai Nielsen, have failed to answer the basic question of why a more equal society should be regarded as valuable. I shall try to show that the positive philosophical commitments contained in his argument may point the way to an answer.


  • Norman, R. (2004). On Humanism. Routledge.
    Albert Einstein, Isaac Asimov, E.M. Forster, Bertrand Russell, and Gloria Steinem all declared themselves humanists. What is humanism and why does it matter? Is there any doctrine every humanist must hold? If it rejects religion, what does it offer in its place? Have the twentieth century's crimes against humanity spelled the end for humanism? On Humanism is a timely and powerfully argued philosophical defence of humanism. It is also an impassioned plea that we turn to ourselves, not religion, if we want to answer Socrates' age-old question: what is the best kind of life to lead? Although humanism has much in common with science, Richard Norman shows that it is far from a denial of the more mysterious, fragile side of being human. He deals with big questions such as the environment, Darwinism and 'creation science', euthanasia and abortion, and then argues that it is ultimately through the human capacity for art, literature and the imagination that humanism is a powerful alternative to religious belief. Drawing on a varied range of examples from Aristotle to Primo Levi and the novels of Virginia Woolf and Graham Swift, On Humanism is a lucid and much needed reflection on this much talked about but little understood phenomenon.
  • Sayers, S. and Norman, R. (1994). Hegel, Marx and Dialectic: A Debate. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing; New edition edition (December 1993).
  • Sayers, S. and Norman, R. (1980). Hegel, Marx and Dialectic: A Debate. Brighton: Harvester Press, Humanities Press (1980).

Book section

  • Lee, L. (2016). Polar Opposites? Diversity and Dialogue among the Religious and Nonreligious. In: Carroll, A. and Norman, R. J. eds. Religion and Atheism: Beyond the Divide. London: Routledge, pp. 167-176. Available at:
  • Norman, R. (2007). The Varieties of Non-Religious Experience. In: Cottingham, J. ed. The Meaning of Theism. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, pp. 91-110.
  • Norman, R. (2006). War, Humanitarian Intervention, and Human Rights. In: Sorabji, R. and Rodin, D. eds. The Ethics of War. Ashgate, pp. 191-207.
  • Norman, R. (2004). Nature, Science and the Sacred. In: Rogers, B. ed. Is Nothing Sacred?. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd; Routledge (imprint), pp. 7-27.

Edited book

  • Norman, R.J. and Moseley, A. eds. (2002). Human Rights and Military Intervention. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Group.


  • Norman, R. (2000). Philosophy and the good life: Reason and passions in Greek, Cartesian and psychoanalytic ethics. Philosophical Investigations [Online] 23:181-187. Available at:
  • Norman, R. (1998). Towards justice and virtue: A constructive account of practical reasoning. Philosophical Investigations [Online] 21:369-372. Available at:
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