Oxford Studies in Metaethics 11:214-240 (2016)

Matthew Silverstein
New York University, Abu Dhabi
Constitutivists seek to locate the metaphysical foundations of ethics in nonnormative facts about what is constitutive of agency. For most constitutivists, this involves grounding authoritative norms in the teleological structure of agency. Despite a recent surge in interest, the philosophical move at the heart of this sort of constitutivism remains underdeveloped. Some constitutivists—Foot, Thomson, and Korsgaard (at least in her recent *Self-Constitution*)—adopt a broadly Aristotelian approach. They claim that the functional nature of agency grounds normative judgments about agents in much the same way that the functional natures of artifacts and bodily organs ground normative judgments about those kinds of things. I argue that the neo-Aristotelian conclusions about goodness which follow so straightforwardly from teleological premises are not genuinely normative. Functions are not by their very nature normatively significant. Other constitutivists—notably J. David Velleman and Paul Katsafanas—eschew Aristotelian talk of functions in favor of an approach based on the idea that agency has a constitutive aim. Velleman and Katsafanas both claim that aims are normatively significant. I argue that the fact that agency has a constitutive aim is merely a fact about the motives that produce and regulate actions. And so we are still left with a gap between the teleological and the normative. I conclude by suggesting that constitutivists have failed to find a way to bridge this gap not because none exists, but rather because they have been looking in the wrong place. The constitutivist project can be salvaged, but only if it is supplemented with a reductive metanormative account of reasons for action, an account that links reasons to sound or successful practical reasoning.
Keywords normativity  constitutivism  teleology
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References found in this work BETA

The Sources of Normativity.Christine M. Korsgaard - 1996 - Cambridge University Press.
Slaves of the Passions.Mark Schroeder - 2007 - Oxford University Press.
Natural Goodness.Philippa Foot - 2001 - Oxford University Press.

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Citations of this work BETA

Constructivism in Metaethics.Carla Bagnoli - 2017 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Constructivism in Metaethics.Carla Bagnoli - 2011 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Extending Introspection.Lukas Schwengerer - 2021 - In Robert William Clowes, Klaus Gärtner & Inês Hipólito (eds.), The Mind-Technology Problem - Investigating Minds, Selves and 21st Century Artifacts. Springer. pp. 231-251.
Power-ing up neo-aristotelian natural goodness.Ben Page - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (11):3755-3775.
Avicenna on Animal Goods.Bethany Somma - 2021 - Journal of Islamic Ethics 5:1-34.

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