Reasons and Deliberation:
Exploring the Prospects of Metaethical Constructivism
The prospects of a constructivist account of normative reasons for action are a topic of ongoing debate in metaethics. What makes such an account attractive is its promise to combine two plausible ideas: that a consideration’s being a reason for doing something is not a mind-independent fact that agents simply discover, and that those reasons are objective and not just an upshot of whatever an agent happens to think or desire. Many have doubted, however, whether constructivism provides an account that makes good on that promise and offers a genuine alternative to the more established positions in metaethics. My dissertation elaborates the constructivist’s basic idea—that reasons are not discovered but made—into a fully fledged account of practical reasons, makes its theoretical commitments explicit, and shows that it offers a distinct metaethical position with the resources to accommodate the objectivity of our reasons.
Metaethical constructivism, as I understand it, comprises two main tenets: it rejects a representationalist account of reason judgements and takes facts about what is a reason for doing what to be mind-dependent. The dissertation elaborates the first tenet by developing an novel alternative to representationalism that focusses on the distinctive role reason judgements play in the process of practical reasoning. I argue that this anti-representationalist account of the nature of reason judgements is compatible with their aptness for being substantively true or false by outlining a pragmatist conception of their truth that takes up and improves upon ideas developed by Crispin Wright.
Facts about what is a reason for doing what can then be understood as the ontological shadows of reason judgements, facts that obtain because the corresponding judgement is true. This entails that such reason facts exhibit what I call alethic mind-dependence, which must be distinguished from other kinds of mind-dependence that are embraced by constructivism’s alternatives. I show that alethic mind-dependence is perfectly compatible with the idea that practical reasons are objective, no matter whether this is understood as affirming the fallibility of our reason judgements, the fact that (some) reasons are universally shared by all agents, or the modal robustness of our reasons. Thus, constructivism turns out to be a distinct and prima facie attractive metaethical position.