Korsgaard and Social Self-Constitution

M. C. Escher, Drawing Hands (1948)


What is the relationship between the self and normativity? Christine Korsgaard has proposed an influential answer to this question: the constitutive function of action is self-constitution, and normative standards are just those principles through which an agent constitutes and psychically unifies itself as a self. There is, however, a problem for this view: the paradox of self-constitution. This paradox that states that, for an agent to engage successfully in self-constitution, that agent must already be constituted as a self, but it is mysterious how, absent prior successful self-constitution, an agent could already be constituted as a self. In this presentation, I will discuss this paradox and Korsgaard’s proposed solution to it. Although I agree with aspects of Korsgaard’s proposed solution, I will argue that it is partial at best. One problem with Korsgaard’s solution to the paradox, I will contend, is that her view relies on an overly individualistic picture of agency and self-constitution. To remedy this, I will draw on contemporary Hegelians, such as Robert Pippin and Terry Pinkard, to suggest that a social picture of agency and social self-constitution may be helpful in resolving the paradox. A social view of agency, I will argue, helps us to make more sense of how we participate in the practice of constituting and re-constituting our selves as rational agents over time. To close this presentation, I will suggest some of the normative results might come from thinking about self-constitution from a social perspective.

July 23, 2017
The Self
Johns Hopkins University