I—Constructivism in Ethics and the Problem of Attachment and Loss

Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 90 (1):161-189 (2016)
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This paper explores two questions in moral philosophy that might at first seem unrelated. The first question is practical. While it’s not a truth we like to contemplate, each of us faces the eventual loss of everyone and everything we love. Is there a way to live in full awareness of that fact without falling into anxiety or depression, or resorting to one form or another of forgetfulness, denial or numbing out? The second question is metaethical. Is it possible to vindicate a strong form of ethical objectivity without positing anything metaphysically or epistemologically mysterious? In this paper, I sketch a partially Buddhist-inspired metaethical view that would, if it could be made to work, give a positive answer to both questions. The overall view is too much to defend in one paper, so I focus on developing one limited part of it. I begin by characterizing the general constructivist strategy for vindicating the objectivity of ethics. After briefly discussing Christine Korsgaard’s Kantian implementation of the strategy, I suggest an alternative implementation. I explore the idea that every agent necessarily faces what I call the problem of attachment and loss. I close with some speculative remarks about why, even though the problem of attachment and loss presents itself in a different substantive guise to each individual agent, it is still possible that the best solution to the problem is universal, and involves taking up an ethical perspective on the world.



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Sharon Street
New York University

Citations of this work

Constructivism in metaethics.Carla Bagnoli - 2011 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Why practice philosophy as a way of life?Javier Hidalgo - 2020 - Metaphilosophy 51 (2-3):411-431.

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References found in this work

What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
On What Matters: Two-Volume Set.Derek Parfit - 2011 - New York: Oxford University Press.
On What Matters: Volume Three.Derek Parfit - 2011 - Oxford University Press UK.

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