Neo-Kantian wickedness : constructivist and realist responses to moral skepticism.




Giannini, Heidi Chamberlin.

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Neo-Kantian constructivism aspires to respond to moral skepticism by compelling agents to act morally on pain of irrationality. According to Christine Korsgaard, a leading proponent of constructivism, we construct all reasons for action by following correct deliberative procedures. But if we follow these procedures we will find that we only have reasons to act in morally permissible ways. Thus, we can show the skeptic that he is rationally constrained to act morally. Unfortunately, as I argue in my first chapter, this strong response to moral skepticism renders deliberate immoral action unintelligible. This result is problematic since we often do interpret ourselves and others as deliberately choosing to do wrong. I further suggest that this problem follows from central commitments of Korsgaard’s constructivism, so that any adequate account of immoral action must abandon constructivist metaethics in favor of moral realism, a suggestion reinforced by the argument of my second chapter. There, I call attention to Kant’s solution to a similar problem in his own account of morality. I argue that Korsgaard’s constructivist commitments prevent her from embracing Kant’s solution. I proceed in my third chapter to argue that there is a further tension between Korsgaard’s response to moral skepticism and her work in non-ideal theory. In particular, Korsgaard maintains that, when confronted with injustice, the virtuous person may have reason to do what is wrong in the name of morality. She thus relies on the assumption that one can deliberately do wrong. I argue that this assumption undermines the response to skepticism that motivated Korsgaard’s constructivism in the first place. But despite the problems with constructivism, we may worry that moral realism fails to offer an adequate response to moral skepticism. Indeed, Korsgaard rejects realism in part because she believes that realists simply refuse to respond to moral skepticism. I thus conclude by arguing that moral realists can offer adequate responses to moral skepticism. In fact, I believe Korsgaard’s response is no more effective than those suggested by some moral realists.



Philosophy., Ethics., Neo-Kantian constructivism., Kant, Immanuel, 1724-1804., Korsgaard, Christine M. (Christine Marion)