What is constructivism in ethics and metaethics?

Philosophy Compass 5 (5):363-384 (2010)
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Abstract

Most agree that when it comes to so-called 'first-order' normative ethics and political philosophy, constructivist views are a powerful family of positions. When it comes to metaethics, however, there is serious disagreement about what, if anything, constructivism has to contribute. In this paper I argue that constructivist views in ethics include not just a family of substantive normative positions, but also a distinct and highly attractive metaethical view. I argue that the widely accepted 'proceduralist characterization' of constructivism in ethics is inadequate, and I propose what I call the 'practical standpoint characterization' in its place. I then offer a general taxonomy of constructivist positions in ethics. Since constructivism's standing as a family of substantive normative positions is relatively uncontested, I devote the remainder of the paper to addressing skeptics' worries about the distinctiveness of constructivism understood as a metaethical view. I compare and contrast constructivism with three other standard metaethical positions with which it is often confused or mistakenly thought to be compatible: realism; naturalist reductions in terms of an ideal response; and expressivism. In discussing the contrast with expressivism, I explain the sense in which, according to the constructivist, the distinction between substantive normative ethics and metaethics breaks down. I conclude by distinguishing between two importantly different debates about the mind-dependence of value. I argue that a failure to make this distinction is part of what explains why the possibility of constructivism as a metaethical view is often overlooked.

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Sharon Street
New York University

Citations of this work

Constitutivism about Practical Reasons.Paul Katsafanas - 2018 - In Daniel Star (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Reasons and Normativity. New York, NY, United States of America: Oxford University Press. pp. 367-394.
Constructivism in metaethics.Carla Bagnoli - 2017 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Grounding Pluralism: Why and How.Kevin Richardson - 2020 - Erkenntnis 85 (6):1399-1415.
Artifactual Normativity.Christopher Frugé - 2022 - Synthese 200 (126):1-19.

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References found in this work

What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
A Theory of Justice.John Rawls - 1971 - Oxford,: Harvard University Press. Edited by Steven M. Cahn.

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