Shmagency revisited

In Michael Brady (ed.), New Waves in Metaethics. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan (2010)
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1. The Shmagency Challenge to Constitutivism In metaethics – and indeed, meta-normativity – constitutivism is a family of views that hope to ground normativity in norms, or standards, or motives, or aims that are constitutive of action and agency. And mostly because of the influential work of Christine Korsgaard and David Velleman, constitutivism seems to be gaining grounds in the current literature. The promises of constitutivism are significant. Perhaps chief among them are the hope to provide with some kind of answer to the skeptic about morality or perhaps practical reason, and the hope to secure for practical reason a kind of objectivity that is consistent with its practical, motivationally engaged nature. The former philosophical motivation for constitutivism – most clearly present in much of Korsgaard’s relevant work[1] – relies on the fact that constitutive norms seem to be less mysterious than not-clearly-constitutive norms. There arguably is nothing mysterious about, say, the norms of certain reasonably-well-defined activities, like building a house, or playing chess. And challenges by the relevant skeptic – the one asking "Why should I make sure the house I’m building can shelter people from the weather?" or "Why should I not castle when my king is checked?" – seem very rare, barely intelligible, and anyway remarkably easy to cope with. We should explain to the misguided skeptic that if he doesn’t even try to build something that can protect people from the weather, he’s not in the business of building a house at all; that if she doesn’t even try to play by the rules of chess, she’s not in the business of playing chess at all; and so on. It would be nice, the constitutivist hope seems to go, if we had something equally powerful by way of a response to the skeptic asking "Why be moral?". The other main motivation for constitutivism – most clearly present in David Velleman’s relevant work[2] – starts from a commitment to some rather strong kind of existence-internalism about reasons: An agent has a reason to?, according to such views ), only if she can come to?, or at least to be motivated to?, by sound deliberation starting from her actual motivational set.



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David Enoch
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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