Norms and Causes: Loosing the Bonds of Deontic Constraint

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School (2012)

James Swindal
Duquesne University
Some philosophers have developed comprehensive interactive models that purport to exhibit the various normative constraints that agents need to adopt in order to achieve what otherwise would be an unattainable and unsustainable social order. Robert Brandom’s semantic inferentialism purports to show how a rational construction of social coordination is enacted and maintained through specific mappings that agents make of each other’s commitments (beliefs) and entitlements (justified beliefs). Strongly influenced by Brandom’s account, Joseph Heath reconstructs a number of historically emergent deontic constraints that solve what are otherwise unsolvable game-theoretic problems in the maintenance of the social order. But both accounts omit a sufficient analysis of the way in which individual agents, who comprise the normative order, are effectively addressed by norms when they act. How does an agent, who is facing a unique interactive situation with more than one normative path to choose, make a decision? One solution, attractive to some continental thinkers, is to appeal to an innate irrational component of decision-making that lies outside of rational bounds (e.g., Nietzsche’s will to power or Adorno’s das Hinzutrentende). The model I will defend lies in an existential account of agency that occupies a middle ground between a pure naturalism (where instinct dominates) and a pure regularism, or “normativism” (where reason dominates). The existential model asserts that the given normative field within which an agent operates conditions the formation of the agent’s intention to act but does not determine the effecting of an action as such — whether individual or collective. On this model, the specification of the acting or not acting on the normative intention is determined only retrospectively on the basis of what the agent actually did in a way that is in principle public and observable. Thus the content of the agency can be reconstructed only historically. The embodied character of the agent is what makes the action relatable to the sum of conditions that were co-determinative of the action at the time it occurred. The advantage of this view is that it does not overreach the highly limited access that we have to the inner workings of intentions to act while at the same time providing an account of agency independent of simply the agent’s relation to norms.
Keywords Joseph Heath  Robert Brandom  normativity  action
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References found in this work BETA

Actions, Reasons, and Causes.Donald Davidson - 1963 - Journal of Philosophy 60 (23):685.
The Toxin Puzzle.Gregory S. Kavka - 1983 - Analysis 43 (1):33-36.
Some Counterexamples to Causal Decision Theory.Andy Egan - 2007 - Philosophical Review 116 (1):93-114.
The Transcendental Necessity of Morality.Joseph Heath - 2003 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (2):378-395.

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