Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

Two talks by Ken Westphal at Bogazici. (29 & 30/11/2012)

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Ken Westphal (East Anglia/ Bielefeld), the internationally renowned Kant and Hegel scholar, will give two talks at Bogazici next week.

Thursday November 29th, 5-7pm, TB130
“Natural Law, Social Contract & Moral Objectivity: Rousseau’s Natural Law Constructivism”

Friday November 30th, 5-7pm TB130
“Conventionalism & the Impoverishment of the Space of Reasons”

Ken Westphal has published almost 100 articles and the following books:

As Author:

Kant’s Transcendental Proof of Realism.
Hegel’s Epistemology: A Philosophical Introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit.
Hegel, Hume und die Identität wahrnehmbarer Dinge: Historisch-kritische Analyse zum Kapitel Wahrnehmung in der Phanomenologie von 1807.
Hegel’s Epistemological Realism: A Study of the Aim and Method of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

As Editor:

The Blackwell Guide to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.
Pragmatism, Reason, & Norms: A Realistic Assessment.
An Introduction to Hegel’s Logic , by Justus Hartnack.
Pragmatism and Realism , by Frederick L. WILL (Foreword by Alasdair MACINTYRE).
William Caldwell: Pragmatism and Idealism – and Responses and Reviews (with John Shook).

Abstracts below the fold.

“Natural Law, Social Contract & Moral Objectivity: Rousseau’s Natural Law Constructivism”.


ABSTRACT: This paper addresses the question, whether Rousseau’s analysis in Du Contrat Social is an exercise in social contract, or instead in natural law theory, in order to argue that Rousseau’s account of how to identify and to justify the most basic moral principles belongs to a neglected though important branch of natural law theory, one inaugurated by Hume and later augmented by Kant and by Hegel. This branch of natural law theory is a distinctive kind of moral constructivism which is altogether independent of moral realism and its alternatives, and yet identifies and justifies strictly objective basic moral principles. Cognitivism about basic moral principles is provided by this view through its account of justification, rather than by appeal to moral truth or truth-makers. I designate this approach ‘Natural Law Constructivism’.

Contrasting ‘natural law’ to ‘social contract’ theory in this way requires clarification, because the latter developed within and originally belongs to the natural law tradition. In addition to distinguishing two kinds of natural law theories – the traditional moral realist, and Hume’s constructivist varieties – my point is also to contrast two kinds of social contract theory: those which use a social contract solely as an expository device, and those which ascribe a constitutive role to contractual agreement in identifying or justifying basic moral principles. The former, expository use of a social contract model can be combined with a natural law theory, or may be based entirely upon one. The latter, substantive use of a social contract model is less dependent upon a natural law theory; radical social contract theories deny any such dependence. I shall refer to these as ‘illustrative’ and ‘substantive’ social contract theories, respectively. I shall argue that Rousseau’s Contrat Social is illustrative, not substantive, though he rejects the moral realism typical of traditional natural law theory, and instead follows (if implicitly) Hume’s innovative lead.

Understanding this Natural Law Constructivism and Rousseau’s use of it requires several steps. Part 1 details the theoretical context within which to reconsider natural law aspects of Rousseau’s theory of justice. I begin with the Euthyphro question to pose a basic dilemma in moral theory (§2), which raises an issue about the relation between artifice and arbitrariness (§3). This issue about arbitrariness highlights the significance of Hume’s key insight into the prospect of Natural Law Constructivism (§4), and how this type of theory addresses Hobbes’ insight that our most fundamental moral problems are problems of social coordination (§5).2 These problems raise the issue about the extent to which any social contract theory is substantive, because contractual agreement plays a constitutive role in identifying or justifying basic normative principles, or instead is merely expository, because a theory assigns no such constitutive role to contractual agreement (§6). This latter kind of social contract theory may instead be a natural law theory. I then argue that Rousseau’s Du Contrat Social is of this latter kind. To do so, in Part 2 I re-examine the core of Rousseau’s theory of justice systematically (§§7–16), which then enables me in Part 3 to highlight Rousseau’s Natural Law Constructivism (§§17–19).

Throughout I speak of ‘moral’ problems and principles broadly, in accord with traditional taxonomy, still standard in Continental Europe, according to which moral philosophy is a genus with two proper, coordinate species: ethics and theory of justice. Twentieth Century Anglophone moral philosophy replaced this division with one according to which (individual) ethics is primary, whilst theory of justice is secondary (at best). This recent taxonomy occludes the fact that one of our most fundamental ethical duties is to comply with the dictates of justice. Though I shall not address this taxonomic issue directly, this paper is in part a plea for the merits of the traditional taxonomy. We begin by revisiting some basics.

“Conventionalism & the Impoverishment of the Space of Reasons”

Sellars’s sophisticated form of pragmatism is highlighted by seeing how his and Quine’s responses
to the insights of, and the tensions within, Carnap’s logical empiricism are diametrically opposed;
their contrast reveals both the myth of givenness and Sellars’s Kantian-pragmatic alternative.

2.1 Logic, Science and Abandoning Historical Philosophy.
2.2 Conceptual Explication.
2.3 Being & ‘Ontology’.
2.4 Physicalism & Conventionalism.
2.5 Empiricism & Confirmation.
2.6 Descriptive Semantics and the Empirical Psychology of Observation.



Seven key points (§§4.1–4.7).

5.1 Pragmatics: Pure or Descriptive?
5.2 Sellars’s Kantian Insight.
5.3 Logical Givenness?



Written by Lucas Thorpe

November 22, 2012 at 12:26 am

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