Ethics and the Social Constitution of Agency
Donley, Clark Robinson
Richardson, Henry S.
In this dissertation, I offer an account of the social constitution of agency and I show how it grounds normative features applying to us as agents. This is a theory that I call social constitutivism. Constitutivism holds that normative features applying to us as agents depend on the constitutive features of agency, and, according to my version of social constitutivism, those normative features depend on constitutive aspects of our agency that are essentially social.In the first chapter, I provide an argumentative introduction to constitutivism as a kind of theory. I introduce social constitutivism as a specific version of this theory, and I articulate a sociohistorical and pluralistic meta-constitutivist framework in which I situate my view.In the second chapter, I look at a problem for us as agents—the problem of the normative—concerning how we determine what we should do and why. I argue that individualistic accounts of this problem are incomplete because they leave out its essentially social nature and origin in dyadic and dialogical challenges between agents concerning the grounds of normative authority.Next, I develop an account of two important constitutive and social features of our agency. In the third chapter, I argue that recognition is a constitutive structure of agency: we become agents by standing in social structures characterized by relations of mutual recognition with other agents. In virtue of standing in this constitutive structure, we are able to apply normative standards to ourselves and others.In the fourth chapter, I argue that we have the constitutive function of social self-constitution. As agents, our characteristic activity is making ourselves into selves through our action. This self-constitution is social in two senses: the sources of our self-constitution are social and our resulting selves are social.In the final chapter, I argue that social constitutivism, unlike more individualistic versions of constitutivism, is able to make progress on a problem (the Content–Bindingness Dilemma) concerning how agents are bound by substantive normative content because of its account of the place of sociality in the constitution of agency.
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Social Science and Humanities: Add Women and Mix [review of WOMEN'S HEALTH CARE: ACTIVIST TRADITIONS AND INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE, by Carol S. Weisman; and THE POLITICS OF WOMEN'S HEALTH: EXPLORING AGENCY AND AUTONOMY, by the Feminist Health Care Ethics Research Network, coordinated by Susan Sherwin] Mahowald, Mary B. (1999-03)