Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 5, pp 1127–1142 | Cite as

The shmagency question

  • Matthew Silverstein


Constitutivists hope to locate the foundations of ethics in the nature of action. They hope to find norms that are constitutive of agency. Recently David Enoch has argued that even if there are such norms, they cannot provide the last word when it comes to normativity, since they cannot tell us whether we have reason to be agents rather than shmagents. I argue that the force of the shmagency objection has been considerably overestimated, because philosophers on both sides of the debate have failed to grasp the true source of the authority of agency’s constitutive norm. Some constitutivists believe that this authority is rooted in the inescapability of agency. Yet agency is not, in fact, inescapable. What actually grounds the authority of agency’s constitutive norm is the fact that there is no standpoint outside of agency from which we can intelligibly ask normative questions.


Constitutivism Agency Enoch Shmagency Normativity 



I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for Philosophical Studies, as well as to Stephen Darwall, David Enoch, Allan Gibbard, Jessica Moss, David Owens, Peter Railton, Joshua Silverstein, Phyllis Silverstein, Sharon Street, and David Velleman, for valuable comments on earlier drafts of this paper. I am especially indebted to Nishi Shah, both for his encouragement and for his many helpful suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New York University Abu DhabiAbu DhabiUnited Arab Emirates

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