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Towards the Autonomy of Ethics: Skepticism, Agency, and Normative Commitment

Hille, Paakkunainen (2011) Towards the Autonomy of Ethics: Skepticism, Agency, and Normative Commitment. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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How may we try to answer the central question of ethics, the question how one should live? Understood as concerning the good lives of rational agents qua rational, the question concerns the standards of practical reason. How may we vindicate a view about those standards—an ethical view, for short? This dissertation examines whether it is possible to vindicate an ethical view without begging any first-order normative questions against skeptics in the process. I argue that it is not. If there are sound arguments for ethical views, they must rely on premises that, while true, beg some first-order normative question against a possible skeptic. I call this thesis the autonomy of ethics. The result is that sound ethical argumentation is disturbingly partisan: sound arguments in ethics cannot be seen to be sound by anyone who does not already share the right first-order view to at least some extent. I argue for the autonomy of ethics by examining attempts to avoid it. Constitutivism seeks to ground ethics in the metaphysics of agency. Metasemantic strategies seek to ground ethics in the conditions of concept-possession, and in the implicit normative commitments that such conditions purportedly involve. Closely related metapragmatic strategies seek to ground ethics in the conditions of using concepts in judgments or in reasoning. Against each strategy, I argue that the relevant conditions—the conditions of agency, of concept-possession, and of concept use—are normatively neutral. I further argue that, given the failure of these strategies, there is no further way to avoid the autonomy of ethics. The only possible sound arguments in favor of ethical views are ethically partisan in the way outlined. One way of putting this conclusion is that there is no purely metaethical way of vindicating any ethical view. If there can nonetheless be objective truths in ethics, their possibility cannot depend on their having a purely metaethical grounding.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSetiya, Kierankis23@pitt.eduKIS23
Committee MemberMcDowell, Johnjmcdowel@pitt.eduJMCDOWEL
Committee MemberMachamer, Peterpkmach@pitt.eduPKMACH
Committee MemberEngstrom, Stephenengstrom@pitt.eduENGSTROM
Date: 29 September 2011
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 19 July 2011
Approval Date: 29 September 2011
Submission Date: 9 August 2011
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: action; agency; autonomy; ethics; instrumental reasoning; Korsgaard; practical reason; rule-following
Other ID:, etd-08092011-110122
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:58
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:48


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