Hi all -
I'm very pleased to welcome Connie Rosati to the Soup in our series of featured philosophers. Connie is Associate Professor at the University of Arizona, and has done a lot of very interesting and original work, much of which she very helpfully summarizes below. Without further ado, then, let's welcome Connie!
Many thanks to the folks at Pea Soup for the invitation to have a conversation about my work. Let me briefly explain the main lines of research I have been pursuing, and with respect to each, say a bit about the issues that I am currently exploring.
One line of research, in metaethics, concerns welfare, and more specifically, what I have come to call “personal good.” In some early articles, “Persons, Perspectives, and Full Information Accounts of the Good” and “Naturalism, Normativity, and the Open Question Argument,” I raised problems for informed-desire theories, arguing that what it is to be good for a person, as these accounts conceive it, lacks the normativity of personal good. Although the counterfactual conditions that figure in these accounts correct for cognitive and informational shortcomings, they do not correct for a person’s current motivational system. What a person would want for herself were she fully informed and rational, is a matter of what she would come to want for herself under conditions of increasing information and rationality. As a consequence, the output is partly a matter of what her motivational system is like, and she may reasonably question her current motivational system. Why, after all, be interested in what she, with her faulty traits and motives, would want herself to want were she fully informed and rational, rather than what some other Ideal Advisor would want her to want. It is, I suggested, because of our agency—our ability to step back from and question our desires, motives, and traits—that these versions of naturalism fail this open question challenge.
In subsequent work, I have taken up questions about the nature of personal good and the nature of normativity. With regard to the former, in a series of papers, I argue that being good for someone is a distinct property from being good, that there is a distinct welfarist sense of ‘good-for’, that the fact that something is good for a person provides agent-neutral as well as agent-relative reasons, that the reasons it provides are agent-neutral because facts about what is good for someone concern a certain relational complex with an object, activity, undertaking, or relationship, standing in the good-for relation to a valuable being. Being good for a person is a matter of a proper relation of “fit” or “suitability” between an end and a person, and the normativity of being good for a person flows from both the value of persons and the relation in which certain things stand to her. What is the nature of the good-for relation? That, of course, is the hard part. In “Personal Good,” I offer a first stab at characterizing that relation, treating it on the model of a healthy love relationship. Look to the characteristic features of those relationships, then generalize. The characteristic features include tending to support (not undermine) an individual’s sense of her own value, being enlivening rather than enervating, providing identity and direction, and furnishing self-supporting sources of internal motivation. Being good for a person, I conjecture, is being such as to have these features.
Among the questions I’m still trying to address in developing an account of personal good are these: how best to characterize the good-for relation, what makes for a good life for a person (as opposed to simply something’s being good for her), what the value of persons consists in, what normative assessment we are making of a life when we describe it not simply as good for the person living it, but as also meaningful, and what sorts of reasons facts about personal good provide. On the latter question, I’ve been thinking about this in connection with the question of whether vows or commitments we make to ourselves earlier in life give us reasons now. Yes (or so I claim in a first draft of an essay on the question) they give us reasons of self-constitution. Thus, my vow when I was a teenager to give blood if I ever weighed enough gave me reason some 35 years later to give blood.
On questions related to personal good, I’ve attempted to characterize the notion of self-sacrifice, to understand why we feel agent-regret, to understand the attraction of immortality, and, in a forthcoming essay, to understand the way in which narrative might make a distinctive contribution to a person’s good.
With respect to normativity, I have argued in “Agency and the Open Question Argument,” as well as in earlier work for a connection between normativity and agency. I’ll be presenting a paper at this Metaethics Workshop this fall that attempts to clear up some misunderstandings about my position in that paper, as well as to say something more directly about different senses in which normativity might depend on agency. I’m still puzzling over these connections and whether stronger claims about how normativity depends on agency, according to which, say, features of agency must figure in the analyses or real definitions of various normative notions, can get very far. (I suspect that informed-desire theories of welfare, the rational care theory, and various constructivist theories might be understood along these lines.)
The other line of research is in the philosophy of law and concerns various questions about the objectivity and normativity of law. In particular, I am interested in the nature and normativity of constitutions, what constitutional originalism gets right—and wrong, and the extent to which formal aspects of moral reasoning can constrain constitutional interpretation in a way that does not invite concerns about judges importing their own moral views into constitutional decision making. This work is at a much earlier stage than my work on personal good and normativity, but I would be glad to chat about it, or about whatever might interest you.