A friend who is an analytic philosopher wrote to me with the following question. I’d like to invite anyone with some expertise or suggestions to kindly say something in the discussions below.
“I’m wondering if there are any figures or traditions that endorse an idea similar to one that is sometimes attributed to Plato and some of the scholastics. The idea is that the nature, essence, or definition of anything and everything includes some reference to value (or some other normative feature). Stated negatively, the idea is that it’s impossible to correctly specify what it is to be x, for any x, without invoking some normative feature (whether evaluative, deontic, aretaic, etc.). On one reading of Plato, this idea shows up in the form of the claim that the characterization of the whole essence of anything must make reference to the Good.
In case it helps to clarify what I have in mind, perhaps I should add that the idea I’m wondering about is antithetical to the naturalist project. At the same time, it goes beyond the comparatively modest thesis, endorsed by G.E. Moore and other moral nonnaturalists, that moral properties are ineliminably essentially normative. The idea I have in mind is much more ambitious: it says that everything is like that. So, not only is moral nonnaturalism true, but the whole of reality is suffused with normativity.
Another way to describe the idea is to note that it’s something of an analogue to the panpsychist view that everything has mentality. The idea I’m looking for says, analogously, that everything is normative (and, indeed, essentially so).
Have you ever come across anything like this idea in Indian philosophy?”