Practice, reasons, and the agent's point of view

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Pavlakos, George (2009)

Abstract: Positivism, in its standard outlook, is normative contextualism: If legal reasons are content-independent, then their content may vary with the context or point of view. Despite several advantages vis-à-vis strong metaphysical conceptions of reasons, contextualism implies relativism, which may lead further to the fragmentation of the point of view of agency. In his Oxford Hart Lecture, Coleman put forward a fresh account of the moral semantics of legal content, one that lays claim to preserving the unity of agency while retaining the social facts thesis, which has been a key intuition of positivism. The present essay identifies potential weaknesses with this account and proposes a reconstruction along rationalist lines: First, it advances a descriptive account of reflective agency that is delivered in terms of a modest conceptual analysis; secondly, this is combined with a context-sensitive or "buck-passing" account of value, which illustrates that substantive reasons for action must be anchored, ontologically speaking, to particular social practices (Social Dependency Thesis). In the end the unity of agency comes at an affordable price, for it is no longer necessary to resort to metaphysical necessity and the most demanding conditions this imposes, in order to defend it.
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