Reasons as Socially Constructed Facts
According to a picture that can be found in both analytic philosophy and cognitive science, reasons are facts to which mind responds in the process of rational deliberation. Reasons are facts that we can see as speaking in favour of particular actions and that we can point out for justificatory or explanatory purposes. This paper develops the idea that such facts have a social ontology.
The cognitive scientists Mercier and Sperber (2017) have recently proposed that a) reasoning is intuitive inference from reasons, rather than following logical requirements and that b) reasons are items that evolved as currency in a social justification practice.
With a), the empirically oriented work of Mercier and Sperber can be related to a debate in analytic philosophy, which discusses whether rationality should be described as “responding to reasons” (defended by e.g. Kiesewetter 2017) or as following structural requirements (defended by e.g. Broome 2007). The picture promoted by Mercier and Sperber is more in line with the former position, according to which reasons are facts to which we respond.
With b), the work of Mercier and Sperber analyses the facts to which we respond in more detail. By arguing that our reference to those facts reflects a communicative social practice, the two authors suggest a social ontology of reasons, but do not develop such a view themselves. This paper develops a view about the ontology of reasons based on Mercier’s and Sperber’s claims. The view depicts reasons as socially (discursively) constructed facts. Thereby, this view can be contrasted to other views about the ontology of reasons in analytic philosophy, such as Scanlon’s realism (2014) or Skorupski’s irrealism (2010).
The paper draws from Haslanger’s work (2012) and argues that there is both an element of constitutive social construction in normative practice and an element of causal social construction in the origin of our reasons. The realm of reasons forms a mind-independent realm which individual mind must take as given. As opposed to the mind-independence claims raised by, for example, Scanlon or Skorupski, the literature in social metaphysics, especially Haslanger’s “critical realism”, offers a way to defend mind-independence without defending normative reality as independent of human practice. This opens up the possibility of genuine normative change, but also shows the limits of an individual to bring about such change.
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