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Kantian constructivism and practical authority

Howard Harris Hewitt, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The aim of this dissertation is to examine two theses and assess the attempt to combine them into a unique metanoramtive account of practical reasons. The first, constitutivism, is the thesis that there are norms written into the exercise of practical agency such that a commitment to these norms on the part of any practical agent is entailed by the fact that one is such an agent. Many have thought that such commitments a way to establish the authority of first order normative principles, and provide a compelling answer to normative skepticism. I will show that constitutivist claims, even if true, have limited normative significance in that those commitments would only condition what considerations can count as reasons for action. The constitutive commitments themselves do not provide those reasons. And so the constitutive commitments of agency alone cannot hope to answer the normative skeptic. The second thesis, constructivism, holds that normative facts are constituted by the output of a deliberative procedure. Constructivists claim that an agent's reasons for action are not facts he discovers by employing the procedure, but instead they are facts that are created by following the procedure. Christine Korsgaard and Sharon Street have put forward constructivist accounts of practical reasons in their recent work, which characterize the deliberative procedure, the outcome of which determines the normative facts, in terms of the constitutivist features of action, or agency. Street and Korsgaard claim that their constructivism is a metanormative theory that allows us to avoid the metaphysical postulates of realism, and allows us to maintain that our normative judgments can be true or false, thereby avoiding non-cognitivist accounts of normative judgment. Using these two philosophers as my foil, I assess the prospects for combining the constitutivist claims mentioned above and constructivism in a metanormative account of practical reasons, and conclude that constructivism, if it is to be a metanormative theory, must be interpreted as natural reduction of normative facts to the psychological facts of agents in ideal epistemic conditions. This view is cognitivist and non-realist, but not a view distinct from other natural reductions of the same sort.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Hewitt, Howard Harris, "Kantian constructivism and practical authority" (2013). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3604720.