Kantian constitutivism : problems and prospects. (2020)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
AuthorsGibson, Kyleshow all
Kantian constitutivists argue that normativity can be derived from particular elements of what is constitutive of our nature. In “Agency Shmagency: Why Normativity Won’t Come From What Is Constitutive of Action”, David Enoch argues that constitutivism cannot serve as a foundation for objective normativity. The first section of this thesis analyses and develops the constitutivist David Velleman’s response to this challenge. The second section explores the way in which the epistemic and metaethical claims made by the Kantian constitutivist, Christine Korsgaard, can be used to reject Enoch’s claim. This exploration of constitutivism reveals that a key Kantian claim utilised by the constitutivist approach allows for the development of a scalar deontology. Hence, the third section of the thesis explains a formulation of the categorical imperative where our obligation to be coherent is something that we pursue more or less successfully, rather than a task at which we succeed or fail.
Enoch (2006) argues that the constitutivist approach cannot deliver objective normativity by deriving normativity from elements of our constitution because how we are constituted is contingent. The problem, according to Enoch, is that any norms derived from agents’ constitutions require a justification that cannot be derived from an appeal to our constitution: being constituted in a particular way does not entail that one ought to endorse being constituted in this way. To reply to Enoch, Velleman needs to deviate significantly from constitutivism’s Kantian foundations, and Korsgaard has not responded to Enoch’s critique. I provide two replies to Enoch’s critique. The first is consistent with key elements of Velleman’s constitutivism but, unlike Velleman’s response, does not deviate from constitutivism’s Kantian foundations. The second reply to Enoch’s shmagency problem is derived from Korsgaard’s solution to a different criticism of Kantian constitutivism. These two replies demonstrate that Kantian constitutivism can overcome Enoch’s critique by appealing to the epistemic and metaphysical roots of the Kantian tradition. In both replies, I demonstrate that Enoch’s argument appeals to an understanding of objectivity that is not shared by the Kantian constitutivists he critiques. In the Kantian tradition, transcendental arguments are utilised to derive objective claims about normativity from necessary elements of our cognitive faculties. By identifying that Enoch’s critique is a dispute with the Kantian tradition rather than the constitutivist approach as such, I demonstrate that Enoch fails to introduce new problems for Kantian constitutivists.
Examining the role of Kantian claims regarding the nature of autonomy and the source of normativity in Kantian constitutivism, reveals that one of the key Kantian claims utilised by constitutivists allows for the development of a scalar deontology: scalar deontology is a formulation of the categorical imperative which explains that our obligation to constitute ourselves coherently is an aim which we always ought to pursue and something that we pursue more or less successfully. Kantian moral theory argues that our autonomy is derived from our ability to control our own actions through the use of our rational faculties. According to the Kantian argument we have control over our own actions when our will is the cause of our actions. Kantian constitutivists develop this argument by explaining that the rational constitution of our will obligates us to act coherently. This obligation to make decisions that are coherent with the demands of our rational faculties is our obligation to constitute ourselves coherently.
Scalar deontology develops this line of argument further by identifying that our obligation to constitute ourselves coherently is an ongoing aim that governs all of the moral decisions we make and explaining that this ongoing obligation to constitute ourselves coherently is not something that we are strictly successful or unsuccessful at achieving but something that we are in the process of pursuing more or less successfully. From the position of a subject that is exercising their autonomy, this obligation to constitute oneself coherently is something that the subject is in the process of pursuing and, thus, from the perspective on an agent engaged in its pursuit, it is an obligation that we are pursuing more or less successfully: it is a scalar obligation.