Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Rationalism and internalism
Korsgaard, I'm quite sure, would dispute this characterization, and it does seem to rest on a significant misreading. She does not maintain, as Tiffany apparently believes, that an agent must regard her particular practical identity as being 'grounded in an identity simply as a human being.' Korsgaard's view is rather that one ought to regard one's practical identity in this way, and that one will just in case one has engaged in a sufficiently thorough process of rational deliberation. Korsgaard is an internalist, then, because she thinks that one doesn't have reasons deriving from the so-called standpoint of humanity unless one has arrived at and endorsed this standpoint through one's own self-directed deliberation. Put another way, one doesn't have such reasons unless one has internal reasons.
That said, Tiffany does seem to be responding to a tension that really is present in any attempt to reconcile rationalism with internalism. The difficulty arises because rationalism is committed, in some sense, to the notion of a rational order which is independent of the judgements of particular agents. This rational order is, obviously, external to the agent and, also obviously, serves as a standard by which the judgments of agents may be evaluated. As such, a commitment to rationalism seems to imply a commitment to the notion that there are robust external reasons for action.
One way Kantian constructivists like Korsgaard seek to avoid this result is by denying that these purported external reasons really are reasons before they are endorsed. Another move, and I don't quite know where Korsgaard stands on this point, is to deny that there is an external rational order as such. There are, rather, certain deliberative procedures the outcome of which is significantly open.
The first move, it seems to me, doesn't do much damage to the view that there are robust external reasons. This is for the simple reason that we can acknowledge Korsgaard's point while saying that the agent ought, in a strong sense, to make just those judgements which accord with the external standard.
The second move, on the other hand, doesn't seem to get the kind of universality that rationalists demand. That is, if deliberation is open then there's no reason to suppose that everyone will, given enough deliberation, arrive at the same judgments about moral obligations. For myself, I'm happy to give up on the universality of morality, but this isn't a result that philosophers like Korsgaard are going to find acceptable.