Korsgaard’s Constitutivism: Agency, Normativity, and the Moral Law
ABSTRACT: In this paper I critically assess Christine Korsgaard’s work on the nature of normativity. Specifically, I focus on Korsgaard’s attempt to ground normativity in the constitutive standards of action and agency. In the first section, I consider David Enoch’s criticism of constitutivism in general and I acknowledge that his criticism works against constitutivists who focus on the constitutive features of objects, entities, or practices. But I argue that Korsgaard can avoid Enoch’s criticism because she focuses instead on the constitutive features of the solution to a problem we already find ourselves facing: the problem of what to do and who to be. Korsgaard believes that, in order to solve this problem, we must value humanity. So, solving the problem requires that we respect the moral law. In the second section, I argue that, since the normative problem as presented by Korsgaard is either impossible to solve or has a trivial solution, we should reject Korsgaard’s formulation of the normative problem. Finally, in the third section, I suggest that, though Korsgaard is right to say that we face normative problems and that this is the source of normativity, her formulation of the normative problem fails because she does not adequately consider the conditions under which we face normative problems. And I argue that, if we consider these conditions, we will realize that we encounter normative problems when we find ourselves confronted by competing claims where solving the normative problem requires balancing these claims against one another.