Christine Korsgaard’s Constructivism

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Constructivism is a theory that believes moral judgments are not real things but they are constructed by practical reason in a rational procedure for resolving practical problems in front of us. Christine Korsgaard, a contemporary American philosopher, is a Kantian constructivist, whose theory I consider in this paper. She is a radical constructivist and disagrees with moral realism and denies moral truths even as abstract facts. According to Korsgaard moral judgments are constructed by rational agents. She believes moral and political principles are generally solutions to human practical problems. She justifies the normativity of moral obligations from this point that they are constructed by agent for resolving his problems. There are some objections to Korsgaard’s constructivism; one of them is to place humanity as the source of value. Keywords: Korsgaard, constructivism, practical problem, humanity. Introduction One of the traditional problems in moral philosophy is the nature and entity of moral truths and judgments. Do humans themselves make and construct them or are they facts and truths in the world which humans just discover? Are moral truths and values subjective or objective? Subjectivism and objectivism have been two old rivals in this question. But some philosophers have proposed a new theory between them that is called Constructivism. According to this theory, moral truths are not real and objective, but are constructed by human practical reason. In this view, an action is morally right when there is a sufficient reason to perform it. In this paper I will discuss Korsgaard’s constructivism. 1. Definition of Constructivism Constructivism is a theory about the justification of moral principles. It is the view that moral principles are the ones agents would agree with or endorse if they were to engage in a hypothetical or idealized process of rational deliberation. The differences about related criteria for this rational process and deliberation have produced several varieties of constructivism like Humean, Aristotelian, and Kantian. 2. Korsgaard’s Constructivism 1-3. Normative Question Korsgaard’s Constructivism is an answer to the main question in history of moral philosophy which she calls normative question. That is a central question about moral requirements. We see that they are inescapable in the sense that they provide reasons to act regardless of an agent’s desires and interests. So the question is: from where do they get their authority and obligatory force on us? Why do we make ourselves observe moral duties and principles? What is the origin of moral obligations? What are our reasons for justifying moral obligations?. She disagrees with the former and agrees with the latter. 3-3.proceduralism The constructivism Korsgaard embraces is a form of proceduralism according to which the rightness of answers to normative questions is grounded in the fact that these answers are yielded by principles deriving from procedures with some special status. Evaluative and normative facts are not there as abstract facts to be met with or discovered through theoretical investigation of the nature and structure of rational agency, but are constructed through our actual practical activities. “Values are constructed by a procedure, the procedure of making laws for ourselves.” For Korsgaard, the relevant procedures at the source of normativity are procedures involved with willing, and what gives them their special status is that they are practically necessary for us—formal procedures rational beings must employ simply to function as agents at all. Everything starts with the nature of the will and the procedures according to which it must operate if it is to function as a will at all, and this is how normative force is explained: “If you recognize the problem to be real, to be yours, to be one you have to solve, and the solution to be the only or the best one, then the solution is binding upon you.” According to Korsgaard, the source of normativity in moral obligations is in our humanity and moral identity. Because of self-consciousness, human beings do not do something just out of their desires; rather they ask themselves whether it is right to act on the basis of desire. Korsgaard agrees with Kant that humanity is a value in itself and says that our reasons to do something determine our identity and nature. She says: “we must therefore take ourselves to be important” and “humanity, as the source of all reasons and values, must be valued for its own sake”. Our human identity imposes unconditional obligations to us, whether we are women or men, of this or that ethnic group, of this or that religious or social group, and so on. Therefore, our human identity is the source of our moral norms and obligations. The violation of these obligations amounts to the loss of our identity. Humanity is a significant part of us. 3. Conclusion There are strong and weak points in Korsgaard theory. One of the strong points, we think, is a successful justification of moral differences in applied ethics. On the other hand, it seems that, in addition to certain objections to Korsgaard’s moral theory, it is also subject to objections to Kant’s moral theory, such as the objection that humanity and human practical identity cannot always serve as a successful criterion for the recognition of moral actions. References 1. FitzPatrick, William J. "The Practical Turn in Ethical Theory: Korsgaard’s Constructivism, Realism, and the Nature of Normativity", Ethics, Vol. 115, No. 4, pp. 651-691. 2. Lenman, James and Shemmer, Yonatan Constructivism in Practical Philosophy, Oxford University Press. 3. Nagel, Thomas "Universality and the reflective self", in the Sources of Normativity, edited by Onora O’Neill, Cambridge University Press. 4. Korsgaard, Christine M. the Sources of Normativity, edited by Onora O’Neill, Cambridge University Press. 5. Korsgaard, Christine M. Creating the Kingdom of Ends, Cambridge: Cambridge University. 6. Korsgaard, Christine M. The Constitution of Agency: Essays on Practical Reason and Moral Psychology, New York: Oxford University Press. 7. Korsgaard, Christine M. Self-Constitution, Agency, Identity, and Integrity, New York: Oxford University Press. 8. Watkins, Eric, and Fitzpatrick, William O’Neill and Korsgaard on the Construction of Normativity, The Journal of Value Inquiry 36: 349–367.
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