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The Constitution of Agency$
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Christine M. Korsgaard

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199552733

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199552733.001.0001

Realism and Constructivism in Twentieth‐Century Moral Philosophy

Chapter:
(p.302) 10 Realism and Constructivism in Twentieth‐Century Moral Philosophy
Source:
The Constitution of Agency
Author(s):

Christine M. Korsgaard (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199552733.003.0011

This chapter traces the development of one of the central debates of late 20th-century moral philosophy — the debate between realism and what Rawls called “constructivism.” It argues that realism is a reactive position that arises in response to almost every attempt to give a substantive explanation of morality. It results from the realist's belief that such explanations inevitably reduce moral phenomena to natural phenomena. The chapter traces this belief, and the essence of realism, to a view about the nature of concepts: that it is the function of all concepts to describe reality. Constructivism may be understood as the alternative view that the function of a normative concept is to refer schematically to the solution to a practical problem. A constructivist account of a concept, unlike a traditional analysis, is an attempt to work out the solution to that problem. The chapter explains how the philosophies of Kant and Rawls can be understood on this model.

Keywords:   concept, constructivist, describe, Kant, moral, naturalist, practical, problem, Rawls, realist

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