Constitutivism and the Inescapability of Agency

Oxford Studies in Metaethics 4:303-333 (2009)

Abstract

Constitutivism argues that the source of the categorical force of the norms of rationality and morality lies in the constitutive features of agency. A systematic failure to be guided by these norms would amount to a loss or lack of agency. Since we cannot but be agents, we cannot but be unconditionally guided by these norms. The constitutivist strategy has been challenged by David Enoch. He argues that our participation in agency is optional and thus cannot be a source of categorical demands. In this paper, I defend the viability of constitutivism by showing that agency is indeed a special ‘inescapable’ enterprise. Agency has the largest jurisdiction, and it is closed under rational assessment. This inescapability does not exempt constitutivism from raising the question whether agents have reason to be agents, but this question has to be taken up within agency. If this question is answered affirmatively, then—I argue—the criteria of practical correctness are self-ratifying in a non-circular way. This is sufficient to show the viability of the constitutivist strategy. Whether agents have conclusive reasons to be agents, however, is a matter to be addressed in the terms of particular versions of constitutivism

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Author's Profile

Luca Ferrero
University of California, Riverside

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