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NORMATIVE AUTHORITY A Constructivist Account. CARLA BAGNOLI University of Modena. 0. The argument in outline. A Cluster of Problems surrounding Normative Authority What is the authority of moral norms? D o they bind universally? R ationally? Instrumentally? How so?

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normative authority a constructivist account

NORMATIVE AUTHORITY A Constructivist Account


University of Modena

0 the argument in outline
0. The argument in outline
  • A Cluster of Problems surrounding Normative Authority
    • What is the authority of moral norms?
    • Do they bind universally? Rationally? Instrumentally? How so?
  • A constructivist proposal:

The authority of (moral/cognitive) normsrests on theirrational authority

    • Moral norms are norms of practicalcognition (cognition of oneselfas a practicalsubject)
      • They are alsonorms of agency and self-constitution
    • Rational authority isdialogical:
      • Practicalsubjects are co-legislators
      • The practiceisgoverned by respect and the parity-constraint

Main advantages

      • It preserves the possibility of faultless disagreements
      • It allows for resolution by change in case of faultless disagreement
      • It offers a more credible account of normative authority, bindingness and efficacy
1 desiderata
1. Desiderata
  • Non-arbitrariness/rationaljustification
  • Non-dogmatism
  • Bindingness/Efficacy
  • Sensitivity to context
  • Sensitivity fo change over time
  • Responsive to faultlessdisagreements
2 rational authority
2. Rational Authority

Basic Rationalist Claim: The only genuine form of authority is rational authority


  • promises universal authority of norms
  • binds all rational agents
  • avoids arbitrariness
  • corrects bias, and epistemic sources of injustice

Problem: how to assess moral standing/rational agency?

3 the standard rationalist view
3. The standard rationalistview

The Kantian model of rational agency is designed to address precisely this question of moral standing

  • Rational norms bind all rational agents as such.
  • Autonomous agents share the starting points of morality, in that they are equally positioned in respect to the object of practical knowledge and equally capable of determining what to do.
  • Rationality takes the form of a self-legislating activity exactly to represent the equal moral standing of all rational agents.
3 1 in search of a basis
3.1. In search of a basis
  • What is the purported basis of moral equality?
  • The standard interpretation: to ground moral equality on rational autonomy understood as a metaphysical feature of the will.
    • Objection: it involves an implausible metaphysics.
  • The standard constructivist interpretation: to replace the metaphysical claim with an empirical claim (Rawls 1971: 444, Hill 2000: 89, Carter 2011).
    • Objection: empirical capacities are also unequally distributed. How can they support moral equality? (Williams 1973: 114-115, Carter 2011)
3 2 the p resumption of moral insight
3.2. The presumption of moral insight

The standard Kantian argument:

  • Rational agents as such have equal moral insight.
  • They qualify as “perfectly autonomous knowers, each equipped with access to a fail-safe procedure for deducing moral conclusions, which operate in the solitude of conscience” (Skorupski 2010: 180).
3 3 problems for the standard ra view
3.3. Problems for the standard RA view
  • It mischaracterizes how moral norms bind.
  • It is a “moralized” view of practical reasoning: moral constraints on reasoning.
  • It is unnecessarily demanding. By according sovereignty to moral reasonssuch norms become self-defeating (Gauguin-type dilemmas)
  • It takes morality to represent a special domain of moral objects. (The myth of the eminent domain). “Morality” is elusive.
  • It proves ineffective in the case of faultless disagreements (e.g. value disagreements).
3 4 the radical mistake
3.4. The radical mistake
  • The debate is based on a mistake: the attempt to define moral standing in terms of a common property that makes us equal and worthy of equal respect and consideration.
  • Proposal: Moral standing does not depend on any metaphysical or empirical property, but it is institutedby a normative relation of mutual respect and recognition among peers (Bagnoli 2007, Bagnoli 2011).
3 5 resetting the debate
3.5. Resetting the debate
  • A “dialogical” view of rational justification starts with the recognition of the mutual dependence of finite rational agents.
  • Mutually dependent, finite beings need to construct reasons that their interlocutors can address as such.
  • Claim: For reasoning to have the intended effect (i.e. produce authoritative norms), we agents ought to relate to others as peers.
4 epistemic parity
4. Epistemicparity
  • “You count your friend as an epistemic peer with respect to an about-to-be-judged claim if and only if you think that conditional the two of you disagreeing about the claim, they two of you are equally likely to be mistaken” (Elga 2011:179 n. 21)
  • Parity is a comparative category, which does not require any input conditions such as equal formal qualifications or equal computational abilities.
  • It does not imply that two peers always perform equally well; nor does it imply that they have equal access to the same epistemic resources or to the same domain of epistemic objects.
4 1 parity in practical reasoning
4.1. Parity in practicalreasoning
  • Practical peers are capable of their own conception of the good life.
  • P’s normative status is not grounded on empirical or metaphysical properties but established through mutual recognition and respect of equal standing (Bagnoli 2007).
  • Pdoes not aim to protect a moral value, e.g. the moral value of equality or the value of humanity.
  • P is a general constraint about reasoning in general, not merely a deliberative constraint about moral reasoning in particular.
  • It is constitutive of the practice of reasoning with others that we try to form reasons that our peers could recognize as such.
4 2 efficacy and agential authority
4.2. Efficacy and agential authority

Moral norms aim to be efficacious.

They are also norms of rational agency.

  • Their efficacy is distinctive because it is marked by reflective consciousness, which establishes a special relation of the practical subjects to themselves. This is a relation of agential authority.
  • Practical knowledge is first of all knowledge of oneself as a practical subject. Knowledge of what to do importantly depends on knowledge of oneself as practical subject.
  • A new approach to the Gauguin-typerationaldilemmas
4 3 reasoning with others as co legislators
4.3 Reasoningwith othersas co-legislators
  • Norms are rationally authoritative if they are based on considerations that could be taken as reasons by our peers.
    • Reasons are defeasible and revisable
  • The role of others in the dialogical account of the practice of justification is pervasive and basic.
    • It is not restricted to the narrow domain of second-personal reasons that address the claims of others or respond to their call (Korsgaard 1996: 140, Darwall 2006: 59).
  • In reasoning with others we build reasons based on considerations that could have authority for our peers. This is different than:
    • speaking as a representative of any one moral community
    • speaking on behalfof any one moral community
    • speaking as if we were members of the same moral community.
5 the constitutive role of equal respect
5. The constitutiverole of equalrespect
  • To treat the requirement of parity as governing the practice of rational justification implies that the whole practice of justification as such is based on respect and mutual recognition of others as peers.
  • But then what is the ground of equal respect?
  • Reply:
  • To take up this question leads us back to the debate about the basis of moral equality and presupposes the “fitting response” view of respect (Darwall 2006).
  • The question is misconceived: there is nothing to which respect responds. Respect is not a mere emotional response. It is not the attitude fit to track a specific value property
  • Respect is constitutive mode of valuing persons as such; it is the practical attitude of holding each other mutually accountable. There are no properties that make anyone worthy of respect or entitled to be respected. The normative relation of mutual recognition is exactly what constitutes equal respect (Bagnoli 2007, Bagnoli 2011).
6 the dialogical view of rational justification
6. The dialogicalview of rationaljustification
  • “Reason must in all its undertaking be subject itself to criticism… Nothing is so important through its usefulness, nothing so sacred, that it may be exempted from this searching examination… Reason depends on this freedom from its very existence. For reason has not dictatorial authority; its verdict is always simply the agreement of free citizens, of whom each one must be permitted to express, without hindrance, his objection or even his veto,” (Kant CPR A738-739/B 766-767).
  • When we reason, we enter an activity whose structure is similar to that of a dialogue among peers.
  • This modality of interaction should not be read simply as openness to criticism, but more generally as a sensitive disposition to active listening to others.
  • The dialogical view does not aim to compel and persuade the interlocutor because it does not recognize any pressure toward convergence. Rather, it encourages the interlocutors to further engage with their peer in order to mutually address a common problem; or rather, in order to construct the problem commonly.
6 1 by comparison
6.1. By comparison
  • The evidential conception of practical reasoning (e.g. model of equal insight):
    • Aim: convergence on truth. the ideal endpoint of effective reasoning is convergence on some normative facts independent of reasoning.
  • The adversarial conception of practical reasoning: there is no normative fact independent of interaction.
    • Aim: persuasion. Reasoning serves to convince and compel the adversary by force of dialectical argument, pressure of status, or even demeanor.
  • The dialogical conception is designed for peers, finite, interdependent rational agents.
    • The aim is constructive. to construct common resources to solve common problems. (It allows for is transformation, and change).
6 2 normative implications of parity constraint
6.2. Normative implications of parity-constraint
  • Parity has limited normative implications concerning equalitarianism
  • It sets the baseline for justifications to qualify as rationally authoritative.
  • It defines the scope of reasons by specifying that the audience is a co-legislator.
7 some general advantages
7. Some general advantages
  • It addresses the issue of rational authority and efficacy upfront. And, indirectly, different take to compliance.
  • It avoids the risks of conservativism and dogmatism(e.g. in contrast to the view that social practices of recognition provide the ontological ground of respect for persons).
  • It avoids the risks of inefficacy of the standard RA view
  • It avoids the myth of the moral domain and dilemmas of rationality
7 1 t he false issue of the moral domain
7.1. The false issue of the “moral domain”
  • Moral norms have no special authority.
  • The only genuine source of authority is reason.
  • All forms of cognitive activities must meet the basic requirement of parity to attain rational authority.
  • There is continuity between the activity of practical reason and morality, even though moral principles can be further differentiated.
  • Distinction instrumental/categorical does not rest on the ontological dichotomy moral/non-moral domains
7 2 the false contrast i others
7.2. The false contrast I/Others
  • Objection: The view is falsely dialogical because others figure only “ideally” rather than “concretely”.  
  • The requirement of parity is a better device for protecting fair auditing than it is the concrete others model. There is no guarantee that we hear the powerless and the weak, since the powerful have stronger voices and silence the powerless. The requirement of parity makes the bias explicit, hence detectable and in principle treatable.
  • The dichotomy I/Others generate false rationality dilemmas btw burdensome moral obligations and personal interest.
7 3 methodological lesson more resources for reasoning
7.3. Methodologicallesson: more resources for reasoning
  • There is a large role for imagination and other ordinary dispositional capacities to play this sort of practical reasoning.
  • Rethinking what counts as the result of shared deliberation (df. of normative change vs. change of heart/change of mind)
  • Role of improvisation
    • Improvisationdiffers from particularism (vs. Rorty1988, Nussbaum 1990, pp. 71, 94-97, 141)
    • Improvisations presumes invariance
  • Role of invariants
    • And invariance is formally given by constraints
to sum up
To sum up
  • The dialogical view is not driven by idealizations. It recognizes mutual dependency and the systematic vulnerability of moral knowledge to power relations, but it construes our constitutive reliance on others so as to make it a resource rather than a liability.
  • In the case of faultless peer disagreements, there is no reason to give priority to one’s own view on the basis of the mere fact that it is one’s own. This is a form of special pleading that is barred by the requirement of parity (Elga 2011: 164-165).
  • The requirement of parity is a constraint designed to block partial difference to oneself.
  • Its main implication is that it protects the possibility of faultless peer disagreements. While it neither presumes a resolution nor leads to convergence, P is a powerful operative device in the case of faultless disagreements because it encourages change by interaction.
  • Anderson, E., 1999, “What Is the Point of Equality?” Ethics 109 (1999): 287–337.
  • Bagnoli, C., 2013 “ConstructivismaboutPractical Knowledge”, inConstructivism in Ethics, Bagnoli ed., Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp. 153-182.
  • Bagnoli, C., 2011 “Emotions and the Categorical Authority of Moral Reasons”, in Morality and the Emotions, ed. by C. Bagnoli, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 62-81.
  • Bagnoli, C., 2012 “MoralityasPractical Knowledge”, AnalyticPhilosophy, Vol. 53 No. 1 March 2012, pp. 60–69.
  • Bagnoli, C., 2007, ‘Respect and Membership in the Moral Community’, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 10/2 (2007): 113-128.
  • Carter, I., 2011“Respect and the Basis of Equality”, Ethics 121/3 (2011): 538-71.
  • Elga, A., “Reflection and Disagreement”, in Goldman, A.I, Whitcombe, D., 2011, Social Epistemology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 158-182.
  • Engstrom S. 2012, “Bringing Practical Knowledge Into View: Response to Bagnoli, Hill, and Reath”, Analytic Philosophy 53/1 (2012): 89-97.
  • Engstrom, S., 2009, The Form of Practical Knowledge, Harvard University Press.
  • Fricker, M. 2011, “Rational Authority and Social Power: Towards a Truly Social Epistemology, in Goldman, A.I, Whitcombe, D., 2011, Social Epistemology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 54-70.
  • Goldman, A.I, “Experts: Which Ones Should You Trust?”, Goldman, A.I, Whitcombe, D., 2011, Social Epistemology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 109-135.
  • KölbelM. 2003. “Faultless Disagreement”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 104: 53–73.
  • Korsgaard, C.M., 1996, The Sources of Normativity, O. O’Neill (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Marglin F.A and Marglin S.A. 1990, Dominating Knowledge: Development, Culture, Resistence, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Nussbaum, M.C., 1986, The Fragility of Goodness, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Rawls, J. 1971, A Theory of Justice, rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.
  • Skorupski J., 2010, The Domain of Reasons, Oxford University Press.
  • Velleman, D., 2009, How We Get Along, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Williams, B., 1965/1973, “Moral Consistency”, in Problems of the Self, Cambridge University Press, 166-186.
  • Williams, B., 1969/1973, “The Idea of Equality”, in Problems of the Self, Cambridge University Press, 230-249.
  • Williams, B., 1979/1981, “Conflicts of Values”, in Moral Luck, Cambridge 1981, 71-82.
  • Williams, B. 1981, “Moral Luck”, Moral Luck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 20-39.