Thu Mar 19, 2015
Howison Library, 4–6 PM
Sharon Street (NYU)
Constructivism in Ethics and the Problem of Attachment and Loss
This paper explores two questions in moral philosophy that might at first seem unrelated. The first question is practical. While it’s not a truth we like to contemplate, each of us faces the eventual loss of everyone and everything we love. Is there a way of living in light of that fact without falling into anxiety or depression, or resorting to one form or another of forgetfulness, denial, or numbing out? The second question is metaethical. Is it possible to vindicate a strong form of ethical objectivity without positing anything metaphysically or epistemologically mysterious? In this paper, I sketch a partially Buddhist-inspired metaethical view that would, if successful, give a positive answer to both questions. Since the overall view is too much to defend in one paper, I focus on developing one limited part of it. I start by offering a general characterization of the constructivist strategy for vindicating the objectivity of ethics. After raising some objections to Christine Korsgaard’s implementation of the strategy, I suggest an alternative implementation. I explore the idea that every agent necessarily faces what I call the problem of attachment and loss. I then briefly explain why, even though the problem of attachment and loss presents itself in a different substantive form to each individual agent, it is still possible that the best solution to the problem is universal, and involves occupying a point of view on the world that turns out just to be an ethical perspective.