Theses Doctoral

Voluntarism and Reflection

Koch, Felix

The dissertation examines the prospects of and the relation between two types of metaethical theories, constitutivist and voluntarist ones, which in different ways place the will, or volitional attitudes, at the center of an explanation of practical reasons and practical normativity. Voluntarism explains reasons or normativity by reference to the content of an agent's will.

Constitutivism does so by reference to the nature or structure of the will, understood in a certain demanding way. I argue that while these two explanatory projects are often run together, and for good reason, it is important to keep them distinct, since each is more likely to be defensible when articulated in isolation from the other. In their most prominent versions - such as the one developed by Christine Korsgaard -, both constitutivism and voluntarism depend on a particular conception of the will as self-reflexive.

By considering what is involved in (first-personally) ascribing the relevant kind of self-reflexive structure to one's own will, I conclude that both types of theory are likely to succeed only in modest, first-order normative forms, not as metaethical explanations of practical normativity or practical reasons in general. I then explain the use of modest voluntarism, namely, to account for the distinctive role that certain exercises of the will could be thought to play in our practical reasoning; and I show the use of modest constitutivism by offering an explanation of structural rationality that like a particularly influential recent account of structural rationality, proposed by Niko Kolodny, is constitutivist in spirit, yet rejects the formalism that Kolodny's account inherits from the metaethically ambitious ones it is meant to replace.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Neuhouser, Frederick
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 15, 2012