The Changing Shape of Korsgaard’s Understanding of Constructivism

Journal of Value Inquiry 45 (4):451-463 (2011)
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The goal of the following paper is to consider the development and viability of Korsgaard’s latest work, Self-Constitution. More specifically, I show that we should understand this book as a response to difficulties with both Korsgaard’s argument in 1996’s The Sources of Normativity and Korsgaard’s earlier attempts to explain what marks the difference between realist and constructivist approaches to ethical theory. I begin by focusing primarily on her essay “Realism and Constructivism in Twentieth-Century Moral Philosophy.” Here I consider exactly how Korsgaard defines constructivism and what makes constructivism different from realist approaches to ethics. I then examine Korsgaard’s two most influential books – Sources and Self-Constitution – in light of this definition. Looking at Sources I argue that there is a serious problem with Korsgaard’s attempt to develop a constructivist moral theory; more specifically, I expose a tension in Korsgaard’s claim that ethical concepts both are rooted in a philosophy of action and exist only as the solution to a concrete practical problem. I then turn to Self-Constitution. I show that a different account of the distinction between realism and constructivism is proposed, one that not only seems designed to avoid the problems that plagued Sources but also forces Korsgaard to significantly revise and retreat from earlier attempt to distinguish constructivism from realism. Finally, I argue that obstacles remain for even this more moderate account.

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Laura Papish
George Washington University

Citations of this work

Constructivism in Metaethics.Carla Bagnoli - 2017 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Constructivism in Metaethics.Carla Bagnoli - 2011 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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References found in this work

Realism and Constructivism in Twentieth-Century Moral Philosophy.Christine M. Korsgaard - 2003 - Journal of Philosophical Research 28 (Supplement):99-122.

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