A Problem for Ambitious Metanormative Constructivism

In Jimmy Lenman & Yonatan Shemmer (eds.), Constructivism in Practical Philosophy. Oxford University Press (2012)
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Abstract
We can distinguish between ambitious metanormative constructivism and a variety of other constructivist projects in ethics and metaethics. Ambitious metanormative constructivism is the project of either developing a type of new metanormative theory, worthy of the label “constructivism”, that is distinct from the existing types of metaethical, or metanormative, theories already on the table—various realisms, non-cognitivisms, error-theories and so on—or showing that the questions that lead to these existing types of theories are somehow fundamentally confused. Natural ways of pursuing the project of ambitious metanormative constructivism lead to certain obvious, and related, worries about whether the ambitions are really being achieved—that is whether we really are being given a distinctive theory. I will argue that responding to these initial worries pushes ambitious metanormative constructivism towards adopting a kind of position that I will call “constructivism all the way down”. Such a position does see off most of the above initial worries. Drawing on the work of Ralph Walker and Crispin Wright, I argue, however, that it faces a distinct objection that is a descendent of Bertrand Russell’s Bishop Stubbs objection against coherentist theories of truth. I grant that the constructivist need not be a coherentist about truth. I argue, however, that despite this the constructivist cannot escape my version of the objection. I also distinguish between this objection and various traditional charges of circularity, regress, relativism, or psychologistic reductionism.
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