Philosophy Research Seminar - The Intersubjective Conditions Of Normative Agency - Irene McMullin (Essex)

15 February 2018, 2.00 PM - 15 February 2018, 3.30 PM

Abstract: In this paper I consider Levinas’ claim that full-fledged agency requires the recognition of second-person authority. I do so by comparing Levinas and Korsgaard on the kind of critical distance that both posit as a necessary condition for the possibility of norm-responsive agency. The latter represents a tendency in the philosophical tradition to characterize such critical distance as arising from an encounter with obstacles to a solitary agent’s struggle for self-perpetuation. In contrast, Levinas suggests that this model can only account for a limited kind of critical distance insofar as it does not question the legitimacy of that project of self-perpetuation itself. Following this Levinasian approach, I will argue that distance from one’s incentives can only be critical in the required way insofar as an agent is forced to confront a demand for justification of her agency as a whole; a demand whose condition of possibility is a perspective outside the confines of the agent’s own projects. I will further argue that Korsgaard’s own account implicitly relies on the kind of second-person claim-responsivity that is at the heart of Levinas’ account. As such, her version of constitutivism – whereby a robust moral normativity is purportedly derived simply from the constitutive norms of agency as such – cannot be the whole story.

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