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Veluwenkamp, H.M.

Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

Robust realism, constitutivism and the shmagency objection

A prominent idea, shared by laymen and philosophers, is that science tells us what to believe. An influential interpretation of this naturalistic premise is to say that explanatory indispensability is a necessary and sufficient condition for epistemic justification. This view has recently been challenged by philosophers who argue that indispensability to deliberation might also be a sufficient condition for justification. David Enoch and Christine Korsgaard have, for example, separately from each other, defended a form of meta-ethical realism on the basis of deliberative indispensability.

Where the views of Enoch and Korsgaard differ, is in how we are to understand the ontological status of moral facts. According to Enoch, moral facts are discovered and irreducible to any set of non-moral facts. Korsgaard, on the other hand, defends a form of meta-ethical constitutivism: she maintains that moral facts are constructed from what is constitutive of rational agency. These different meta-ethical outlooks also require different defensive strategies. Since Enoch claims that moral facts are “out there” in the world, he faces the Stroudian objection that our belief in moral facts is, although indispensable, illusory.

Korsgaard holds the epistemically more modest position that moral facts are constructed from what is constitutive of rational agency. Therefore, a similar objection does not apply to her. However, the now famous “shmagency objection” says that on a constitutivist’s account, moral facts cannot have any “normative force” if we do not have a prior reason to be rational agents. In this paper I argue that Enoch also faces this problem, even though his argument avoids the Stroudian objection. I subsequently show that the obvious way of remedying this problem introduces an implausible combination of so-called “reason fundamentalism” and Kantian constitutivism. Finally, I argue that the shmagency objection depends on the success of robust realism, and therefore fails as well. The upshot of this result is that it removes an important impediment to the development of constitutive theories.

Last modified:20 February 2015 10.23 a.m.