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Constituting Normativity: A Phenomenological Study of Agency

SHANNON, NATHAN,LIAM (2017) Constituting Normativity: A Phenomenological Study of Agency. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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In The Sources of Normativity, Christine Korsgaard gives an account of the force that various claims (e.g., obligations, demands) can possess for us. She continues this project, in later works, with a more explicit focus upon the nature of agency. Korsgaard defends the view that normativity is grounded in an ongoing process of ‘self-constitution’: we assume various ‘practical identities’ (e.g., teacher, parent) and the commitments these embody generate reasons, obligations, etc. As we negotiate these demands we refine our view of their authority over us and realize our identity more concretely. Taking this as the point of departure, I draw upon Heidegger’s phenomenology (and, in a later section, Sartre’s) to explore the relationship between agency, identity and normativity. My aim is to shed light not only upon the attitudes which sustain normativity, but also those which hold open the space of possibilities within which self-constitution unfolds. In this respect, what I offer is a broad phenomenology of agency.

The discussion has two parts. Part I addresses the ‘personal’ aspects of identity. Drawing upon Heidegger’s account of everyday Being-in-the-world, I defend the claim that our practical identities involve a kind of pre-reflective self-understanding. This understanding is inextricable both from the way we find ourselves affectively attuned to the world and a form of self-interpretation. I also consider how this relates to practical reasoning. Part II focuses upon the ‘anonymous’ dimensions of identity. Rejecting Korsgaard’s account of moral normativity, I argue that what she calls our ‘human identity’, plays a different but more pervasive role in our lives, akin to Heidegger’s ‘everydayness’. Distinguishing ‘everydayness’ from das Man understood as an existentiale, I identify a deeper anonymity, which I call our ‘existential identity’. Finally, drawing upon Sartre’s account of ‘Being-for-Others’, I characterise this as a way of being ‘just someone’ that is simultaneously a form of deep agential unity.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Philosophy, Department of
Thesis Date:2017
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Aug 2017 14:20

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