Why Be an Agent?

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (2):223 - 233 (2012)
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Constitutivism is the view that it is possible to derive contentful, normatively binding demands of practical reason and morality from the constitutive features of agency. Whereas much of the debate has focused on the constitutivist's ability to derive content, David Enoch has challenged her ability to generate normativity. Even if one can derive content from the constitutive aims of agency, one could simply demur: ?Bah! Agency, shmagency?. The ?Why be moral?? question would be replaced by the ?Why be an agent?? question. It is the aim of this paper to show that the shmagency objection is essentially correct, though not as originally defended by Enoch. Since Enoch posed his argument as ruling out the normative authority of agency under any conception of the constitutive features of agency, constitutivists have responded by arguing for the inescapability of certain minimal features of agency. I argue that this amounts to equivocation: the constitutivist appeals to a minimal conception of agency in answering the normative question but to a richer understanding in answering the content question. The key to the shmagency objection, as I shall defend it, is to insist that the same sense of agency must be employed in answering both questions. A shmagent can concede that there may be inescapable ways of understanding agency, but insist that any such understanding would have to be too minimal to generate substantive content.



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Evan Tiffany
Simon Fraser University

Citations of this work

Meta‐Skepticism.Olle Risberg - forthcoming - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
The Shmagency Question.Matthew Silverstein - 2015 - Philosophical Studies 172 (5):1127-1142.
Constructivism in metaethics.Carla Bagnoli - 2017 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Constitutivism about Practical Reasons.Paul Katsafanas - 2018 - In Daniel Star (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Reasons and Normativity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 367-394.
Kant: constitutivism as capacities-first philosophy.Karl Schafer - 2019 - Philosophical Explorations 22 (2):177-193.

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What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Philosophical Explanations.Robert Nozick - 1981 - Harvard University Press.
Freedom and Resentment.Peter Strawson - 1962 - Proceedings of the British Academy 48:187-211.

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