Are constructivist criticisms on realism justified?
In this essay, I will argue that constructivist criticisms on realism are justified, provided that the alternative procedural decision making process that constructivists offer seems plausible. I will argue for this by showing that not only arguments derived from is/ought problem, but also practical problems justify the criticisms constructivist have towards realism.
First of all, one viewpoint that realists and constructivists have in common is, whether moral concepts have truth values. They both hold that moral concepts are truth-apt, so that question is not further analysed in this essay. However, realists and constructivist do not agree on what the function of moral concepts is and what makes moral concepts true. Realists would advocate that moral concepts may have truth values, because moral concepts describe or refer to normative entities or facts that exist independently of those concepts themselves (Korsgaard 2009:302). Metaethical constructivists would argue against the view that all that moral concepts are for, is to describe the reality. Constructivism may be understood as the alternative view that the function of a normative concept is to refer schematically to the solution to a practical problem. A constructivist account of a concept, unlike a traditional analysis, is an attempt to work out the solution to that problem (Korsgaard 2009:302).
So, the main difference between realist and constructivist approaches is the nature of moral concepts. Constructivist criticism revolves therefore mainly around the realist idea that the function of moral concepts is to describe the reality. But added to that, there are some practical criticisms against realist views as well. One question is, which theory describes the moral decision making process better – realism on constructivism. Another is, whether the criticisms one view has against the other are justified. The last, I am going to analyse further, but I will also shortly give my opinion on, which theory is more plausible and under which conditions.
Constructivist criticisms on realism
The way realists and constructivists see the function of moral concepts brings about much criticism towards realist view. One of the first problems, that is connected to the above mentioned, is the question – what makes moral judgments true and what makes it the case that certain moral standards are the correct ones. The realist answer is that moral standards are correct if they correspond to the reality, but realists do not really have a further general answer to this (Shafer-Landau 2003:45). This view can be criticised by saying that substantive realism fails to respond to the sceptical challenge, because it simply assumes the existence of objective standards for morality without offering a rational basis for them. As a consequence the realist also fails to account for the authority of moral obligations – for why we really ought to do as morality says (Korsgaard 1996; Korsgaard 2009, 234, 30-31, 55-57, 67-68). Realists cannot rely on the explanation of constructive process, when answering the question why are some moral standards correct. The realists must say of the moral standards she favours that they just are correct – not in virtue of their being selected or created by anyone, but simply correct (Shafer-Landau 2003:46). It seems then that realist approach leaves moral agents out of the decision making progress. It presupposes that there are principles that ought to be pursued for their own sake. We would have to follow those objective standards, even if we do not always agree with them.
So the second way to criticise realism arises. Realism seems to leave moral agents without autonomy in their own matters. If there are objective moral facts, then we are not responsible for creating our ends – they will be chosen for or imposed on us. This represents an unwarranted restriction on our freedom and...
Bibliography: 1. Bagnoli, Carla, "Constructivism in Metaethics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Online: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/constructivism-metaethics/ 19.12.2012
2. Korsgaard, C. M “The Constitution of Agency: Essays on Practical Reason and Moral Psychology”, Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009.
3. Shafer-Landau, R. “The Constructivist Challenge” in “Moral Realism: A Defence”, chapter 2, Oxford University Press: 2003.
4. Street, Sharon “What is Constructivism in Ethics and Metaethics?” Philosophy Compass, vol 4, 2009.
 Referred through: Bagnoli, Carla, "Constructivism in Metaethics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Online:
 Referenced through Shafer-Landau 2003:46.
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