The Constitution of Constitutivism

Dissertation, University of Leeds (2019)
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Why be moral? According to constitutivism, there are features constitutive of agency, actual or ideal, the properties of which explain why moral norms are normative for us. I aim to investigate whether this idea is plausible. I start off critically. After defining constitutivism and outlining its attractions and problems (chapter 1), I discuss the theories of various features of agency that are supposed to ground morality according to the leading constitutivists in the literature. I find these theories wanting. They are based on implausible assumptions about agency (chapter 2), and they fail to make sense of moral (and other) norms because the so-called shmagency objection, according to which we can shirk from our normative commitments by being ‘shmagents’ rather than agents, appears in new ways for them (chapter 3). Then I get more constructive. I defend a two-tiered form of constitutivism. The first tier captures practical rationality, and the second tier captures reasons for action. Starting with the first tier, I defend a Humean theory of agency (chapter 4) and add a principle of instrumental rationality to it (chapter 5). Appendices A and B supplement these chapters with replies to criticisms of the Humean picture. In chapters 6 and 7, I put this conception of agency to work to reach the second tier of the view. I start by defending a form of reasons internalism which treats practical reasons as grounded in the desires of ideal agents (chapter 6). Then I extend this theory to moral reasons, arguing – unexpectedly for a Humean – that we have universally prescriptive reasons to cooperate with other cooperative agents to satisfy our other respective desires (chapter 7). Hence, the constitutive features of ideal agency ground a morality of cooperation. I conclude by summarizing the case for constitutivism (chapter 8).



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Olof Leffler
Università degli Studi di Siena

Citations of this work

A Reason to Know.Olof Leffler - 2023 - Journal of Value Inquiry 57 (3):557-575.
Reasons Internalism, Cooperation, and Law.Olof Leffler - 2020 - In Rachael Mellin, Raimo Tuomela & Miguel Garcia-Godinez (eds.), Social Ontology, Normativity and Law. Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter. pp. 115-132.

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