This paper has two goals. First, I offer an interpretation of Nietzsche’s puzzling claims about will to power. I argue that the will to power thesis is a version of constitutivism. Constitutivism is the view that we can derive substantive normative conclusions from an account of the nature of agency; in particular, constitutivism rests on the idea that all actions are motivated by a common, higher-order aim, whose presence generates a standard of assessment for actions. Nietzsche’s version (...) of constitutivism is based on a series of subtle claims about the psychology of willing and the nature of satisfaction, which imply that all actions aim at encountering and overcoming resistance (this is what Nietzsche means by “will to power”). Second, I argue that Nietzsche’s theory, thus interpreted, generates a new, a posteriori version of constitutivism that is not vulnerable to certain familiar objections. If this is right, then we can deploy Nietzschean ideas in order to make a substantive contribution to issues that are currently at the forefront of ethics and action theory. (shrink)
Confronted with normative claims as diverse as “murder is wrong” and “agents have reason to take the means to their ends,” we can ask how these claims might be justified. Constitutivism is the view that we can justify certain normative claims by showing that agents become committed to them simply in virtue of acting. Agency and the Foundations of Ethics explains the constitutivist strategy and argues that the attractions of this view are considerable: constitutivism promises to resolve longstanding (...) philosophical puzzles about the metaphysics, epistemology, and practical grip of normative claims. The greatest challenge for any constitutivist theory is developing a conception of action that is minimal enough to be independently plausible, but substantial enough to yield robust normative results. This book argues that the current versions of constitutivism fall short on this score. However, we can generate a successful version by employing a more nuanced theory of action. Drawing on recent empirical work on human motivation as well as a model of agency indebted to the work of Nietzsche, the book argues that every episode of action aims jointly at agential activity and power. An agent manifests agential activity if she approves of her action, and further knowledge of the motives figuring in the etiology of her action would not undermine this approval. An agent aims at power if she aims at encountering and overcoming obstacles or resistances in the course of pursuing other, more determinate ends. These structural features of agency both constitute events as actions and generate standards of assessment for action. Using these results, the book shows that we can derive substantive and sometimes surprising normative claims from facts about the nature of agency. (shrink)
How can we account for the categorical force of the norms of rationality and morality? Some philosophers have argued that the grounds of these unconditional oughts are to be found in the nature of agency.2 In a rough outline, their basic claim is that the norms and requirements of practical rationality and morality can be derived from the constitutive features of agency. Hence, a systematic failure to be guided by these requirements amounts to a loss of agency. But there is (...) a sense in which we cannot but be agents. From which it follows that we are necessarily bound by the oughts of rationality and morality, we are bound by them sans phrase. 1.2 The success of this argumentative strategy—which goes under the name of ʻconstitutivismʼ—depends on establishing the following two claims. First, that the norms of rationality and morality can be derived from the constitutive features of agency. Second, that we cannot but be agents, that agency is non-optional. (shrink)
What I call “Rorty’s Dilemma” has us caught between the Scylla of Cartesian Dualism and the Charybdis of eliminativism about the mental. Proper recognition of what is distinctively mental requires accommodating incorrigibility about our mental states, something Rorty thinks materialists cannot do. So we must either countenance mental states over and above physical states in our ontology, or else give up altogether on the mental as a distinct category. In section 2, “Materialist Introspectionism—Independence and Epistemic Authority”, I review reasons for (...) being dissatisfied with materialist introspectionism as a way out of the dilemma. In section 3, “Constitutivism”, I outline two constitutivist alternatives to materialist introspectionism. In section 4, “A Neo-Expressivist View”, I offer my neo-expressivist view (defended in Bar-On, Speaking my mind: Expression and self-knowledge. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2004 ), according to which the distinctive status of mental self-ascriptions is to be explained by appeal to the expressive character of acts of issuing them (in speech or in thought). This view, I argue, allows us to stay clear of eliminativism without committing to Cartesian substance dualism, thereby offering a viable way of slipping between the horns of Rorty’s dilemma. (shrink)
Constitutivist accounts of self-knowledge argue that a noncontingent, conceptual relation holds between our first-order mental states and our introspective awareness of them. I explicate a constitutivist account of our knowledge of our own beliefs and defend it against criticisms recently raised by Christopher Peacocke. According to Peacocke, constitutivism says that our second-order introspective beliefs are groundless. I show that Peacocke’s arguments apply to reliabilism not to constitutivism per se, and that by adopting a functionalist account of direct accessibility (...) a constitutivist can avoid reliabilism. I then argue that the resulting view is preferable to Peacocke’s own account of self-knowledge. (shrink)
Constitutivists about one's cognitive access to one's mental states often hold that for any rational subject S and mental state M falling into some specified range of types, necessarily, if S believes that she has M , then S has M . Some argue that such a principle applies to beliefs about all types of mental state. Others are more cautious, but offer no criterion by which the principle's range could be determined. In this paper I begin to develop such (...) a criterion, arguing that although the principle applies when M is a belief, it does not apply when M is an emotion. I account for this asymmetry by focusing on differences in the commitments that belief and emotion conceptually involve, and briefly sketch out a psychological explanation of those differences. I conclude that one can reasonably split one's epistemological loyalties between constitutivism regarding meta-beliefs and non-constitutivism regarding beliefs about one's emotions. (shrink)
In this article, I defend a meta-normative account of constitutivism by specifically addressing what I take to be a fundamental criticism of the constitutivist stance, namely, the objection that constitutive standards have conceptual, not normative, force, and so that no practical normativity can be extracted from them as constitutive of agency. In reply to this objection, I argue that the conceptual role of the standards constitutive of agency ? their applying to us by virtue of our being the kinds (...) of creatures we are ? does not exclude, but rather combines with, the normative role the same standards play in our practical life. (shrink)
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 (and, some would say, because of the also-influential work of Kant and Aristotle), 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 – 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?" (and related skeptics). The other main motivation for constitutivism – most clearly present in David Velleman’s relevant work – starts from a commitment to some rather strong kind of existence-internalism about reasons: An agent has a reason to ?, according to such views (commonly associated with Williams’s influential "Internal and External Reasons" (1981)), only if she can come to ?, or at least to be motivated to ?, by sound deliberation starting from her actual motivational set.. (shrink)
I investigate the way in which our conscious judgments can be a guide to our beliefs, a topic discussed by Gareth Evans, Richard Moran, Christopher Peacocke, and Alex Byrne, among others. I argue that our conscious judgments can give us a kind of justification to self-ascribe beliefs which is (i) distinctively first-personal, (ii) non-inferential, and (iii) fallible. I then defend my view from a challenge from "constitutivist" views in the epistemology of introspection, defended by philosophers such as Sydney Shoemaker, according (...) to which only our beliefs themselves give us justification to self-ascribe beliefs. (shrink)
In this paper I offer an innovative interpretation of Nietzsche's metaethical theory of value which shows him to be a kind of constitutivist. For Nietzsche, I argue, valuing is a conative attitude which institutes values, rather than tracking what is independently of value. What is characteristic of those acts of willing which institute values is that they are owned or authored. Nietzsche makes this point using the vocabulary of self-mastery. One crucial feature of those who have achieved this feat, and (...) have consequently become agents, is that they possess a diachronic or long will and are consequently capable of the rational governance of future behaviour. The possession of a will of this sort is crucial because it is a necessary condition for engaging in temporally unified activities which are a requisite of authorship. Nietzsche, I argue, makes these points in his doctrine of eternal recurrence which provides a test that acts of will must pass to count as laws. In the final section of the paper I argue for the superiority of this interpretation over some of its competitors. (shrink)
This chapter develops a simple theory of introspection on which a mental state is introspectively accessible just by virtue of the fact that one is in that mental state. This theory raises two questions: first, a generalization question: which mental states are introspectively accessible; and second, an explanatory question: why are some mental states introspectively accessible, rather than others, or none at all? In response to the generalization question, I argue that a mental state is introspectively accessible if and only (...) if it is phenomenally individuated. And in response to the explanatory question, I argue that a mental state is introspectively accessible if and only if it is among the determinants of justification. This provides the basis of an argument for a phenomenal conception of justification, according to which a mental state is among the determinants of justification if and only if it is phenomenally individuated. (shrink)
Constitutive arguments for the principles of practical reason attempt to justify normative requirements by claiming that we already accept them in so far as we are believers or agents. In two constitutive arguments for the requirement that we must will universally, Korsgaard attempts first to arrive at the requirement that we will universally from observations about the causality of the will, and secondly to establish that willing universally is constitutive of having a self. Some rational requirements may be established by (...) some version of this second argument, but the strategy does not seem promising when it comes to establishing the requirement that we will universally. I draw on the discussion of Korsgaard to highlight a challenge facing constitutive arguments in general. (shrink)
We propose a formal representation of objects , those being mathematical or empirical objects. The powerful framework inside which we represent them in a unique and coherent way is grounded, on the formal side, in a logical approach with a direct mathematical semantics in the well-established field of constructive topology, and, on the philosophical side, in a neo-Kantian perspective emphasizing the knowing subject’s role, which is constructive for the mathematical objects and constitutive for the empirical ones.
Mackie's argument for the Error Theory is described. Four ways of responding to Mackie's argument—the Instrumental Approach, the Universalization Approach, the Reasons Approach, and the Constitutivist Approach—are outlined and evaluated. It emerges that though the Constitutivist Approach offers the most promising response to Mackie's argument, it is difficult to say whether that response is adequate or not.
Lavin’s conclusion—that strong imperativalism and constitutivism are incompatible—spells trouble for contemporary Kantians who, like Korsgaard, hope to combine these two doctrines. I aim to offer them some solace by showing that Lavin’s criticism rests on a mistaken conception of ideal rational agency.
Standard philosophical methodology which proceeds by appeal to intuitions accessible "from the armchair" has come under criticism on the basis of empirical work indicating unanticipated variability of such intuitions. Loose constitutivity---the idea that intuitions are partly, but not strictly, constitutive of the concepts that appear in them---offers an interesting line of response to this empirical challenge. On a loose constitutivist view, it is unlikely that our intuitions are incorrect across the board, since they partly fix the facts in question. But (...) we argue that this ratification of intuitions is at best rough and generic, and can only do the required methodological work if it operates in conjunction with some sort of further criteria of theory selection. We consider two that we find in the literature: naturalness (Brian Weatherson, borrowing from Lewis) and charity (Henry Jackman, borrowing from Davidson). At the end of the day, neither provides the armchair philosopher complete shelter from extra-armchair inquiry. (shrink)
Abstract: Practical deliberation is deliberation concerning what to do governed by norms on intention (e.g. means-end coherence and consistency), which are taken to be a mark of rational deliberation. According to the theory of practical deliberation I develop in this paper we should think of the norms of rational practical deliberation ecologically: that is, the norms that constitute rational practical deliberation depend on the complex interaction between the psychological capacities of the agent in question and the agent's environment. I argue (...) that this view does a better job of justifying particular norms for practical deliberation than intrinsic or constitutivist theories. Finally, I argue against the Myth Theory of deliberation, which takes there to be no such norms on deliberation. (shrink)
This paper takes a constitutivist approach to self-deception, and argues that this phenomenon should be evaluated under several dimensions of rationality. The constitutivist approach has the merit of explaining the selective nature of self-deception as well as its being subject to moral sanction. Self-deception is a pragmatic strategy for maintaining the stability of the self, hence continuous with other rational activities of self-constitution. However, its success is limited, and it costs are high: it protects the agent’s self by undermining the (...) authority she has on her mental life. To this extent, self-deception is akin to alienation and estrangement. Its morally disturbing feature is its self-serving partiality. The self-deceptive agent settles on standards of justification that are lower than any rational agent would adopt, and thus loses grip on her agency. To capture the moral dimension of self-deception, I defend a Kantian account of the constraints that bear on self-constitution, and argue that it warrants more discriminating standards of agential autonomy than other contemporary minimalist views of self-government. (shrink)
Constitutivism is the view that it is possible to derive contentful, normatively binding demands of practical reason and morality from the constitutive features of agency. Whereas much of the debate has focused on the constitutivist's ability to derive content, David Enoch has challenged her ability to generate normativity. Even if one can derive content from the constitutive aims of agency, one could simply demur: ?Bah! Agency, shmagency?. The ?Why be moral?? question would be replaced by the ?Why be an (...) agent?? question. It is the aim of this paper to show that the shmagency objection is essentially correct, though not as originally defended by Enoch. Since Enoch posed his argument as ruling out the normative authority of agency under any conception of the constitutive features of agency, constitutivists have responded by arguing for the inescapability of certain minimal features of agency. I argue that this amounts to equivocation: the constitutivist appeals to a minimal conception of agency in answering the normative question but to a richer understanding in answering the content question. The key to the shmagency objection, as I shall defend it, is to insist that the same sense of agency must be employed in answering both questions. A shmagent can concede that there may be inescapable ways of understanding agency, but insist that any such understanding would have to be too minimal to generate substantive content. (shrink)
In this paper I offer a partial defense of a constitutivist view according to which it is possible to defend fundamental requirements of practical reason by appeal to facts about what is constitutive of rational agency. I show how it is possible for that approach to circumvent the ‘is’/’ought’ problem as well as the requirement that it be possible to act contrary to practical reason. But I do not attempt to establish any particular fundamental requirement. The key ideas are that (...) such a requirement is not genuine if it is arbitrary, and that it is arbitrary just in case (a) it needs explanation and (b) that explanation could not, even in principle, be provided. (shrink)
Some authors sustain that historical research is an effect of a specific historiographical context (Jenkins, 1991; González de Oleaga, 2009). An approach to the historiographical debate between constructivism and recontructivism is presented in this paper. Two theses are here defended. The first one affirms that the above mentioned debate is deeply related to epistemological questions (study of mental representations, different conceptions about historical reasoning functions, historical reasoning, cognitive bias, and informal falacies). The second thesis affirms that each historiographical conception can (...) be understood as the effect of assuming a specific perspective about these epistemic questions. As an evidence of this, some connections between historiography and epistemology will be analysed through the analogy between the reconstructivism vs. constructivism debate, and the epistemological debate detectivism vs. constitutivism (Finkelstein, 2003). (shrink)
Partant de l'idée énoncée par le philosophe Charles Taylor, selon laquelle les êtres humains sont « des animaux capables d'auto-interprétation », cet article vise à comprendre le rôle constitutif de l'auto-interprétation dans la connaissance de soi. Une conception satisfaisante de l'auto-interprétation devrait à la fois rendre compte de l'autorité de la connaissance de soi en première personne et satisfaire les exigences du réalisme ordinaire. Si la version constitutiviste de l'auto-interprétation semble incompatible avec de telles exigences, c'est parce qu'elle considère ce (...) pouvoir constituant comme le privilège du sujet de modeler ses états mentaux au gré de sa volonté. Pour autant, il est possible de conserver un rôle constitutif à l'auto-interprétation en évitant toute implication volontariste et en maintenant une certaine indépendance des contenus mentaux du sujet envers lui-même. C'est ce que proposent les philosophes américains Richard Moran et David Finkelstein, le premier, en redéfinissant l'activité d'auto-interprétation en termes de croyance impliquant l'adhésion du sujet à ses attitudes mentales. Considérant le sujet en tant qu'agent responsable de ses attitudes, Moran défend une conception cognitive et engagée de l'interprétation, un point de vue pratique du sujet sur lui-même. La délibération fournit ainsi les raisons d'adopter une croyance, un désir, une émotion,... raisons qui justifient en même temps l'auto-interprétation. Moins attaché à la valeur cognitive de l'auto-interprétation, Finkelstein développe également une conception pratique de la connaissance de soi, fondée sur la fonction expressive des auto-attributions et où l'auto-interprétation a valeur de contexte de cela même qu'elle interprète. (shrink)