Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

Constitutivism and Phenomenology. On Sociality as a Ground for Moral Necessitation

Sigurd Nøstberg Hovd

Thursday 2 December 2021

11:30 - 12:10

Zoom 1-2

Constitutivism is a metaethical view claiming that we are subject to moral norms in virtue of the particular kind of beings we are. Within contemporary analytical ethics, both Aristotelian virtue ethical approaches of Anscombe, LeBar, and Millgram, as well as the Kantian approach to ethics espoused by Korsgaard are considered constitutive theories. Both approaches argue that, respectively, virtue or the categorical imperative are prescriptive of what it means to be the particular kind of rational agent that we are. These norms are intersubjectively valid for all human beings, and we are always already implicitly committed to them by being the kind of beings we are. Despite clear differences in the moral psychology underpinning these approaches, they notably share a common assumption: that if moral norms are constitutive, they are so in virtue of our rational agency. In this article, I challenge this assumption. Leaning on the distinction between reflexive and pre-reflexive self-awareness, so fundamental to the phenomenological tradition as a whole, as well as the analyses of personalistic reflective selfhood, of Husserl, Stein, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty, I argue that an alternative constitutive account of moral norms can be developed; an account that grounds the necessitation of these norms in our reflexive self-conception rather than our volitional acts. The constitutive role played by acts of mutual empathy in founding such a reflexive self-conception entails that, according to this account, we should see our ability to be motivated by moral norms as far more closely connected to our social nature, than to our capacity for practical reasoning.