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‘Intelligible facts’: toward a constructivist account of action and responsibility

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Abstract

This paper interprets facts about actions and responsibility in terms of Kant’s category of the ‘intelligible,’ but is also broadly naturalistic in its approach. It analyses intelligible facts in terms of two elements, the institutional and the normative. First, I draw on John Searle’s account of institutional facts. Searle emphasises that neither the meaning of a word nor my possession of something is a matter of empirical facts concerning the entity itself. Instead, to understand the nature of such facts, we must take account of people’s shared beliefs. Kant’s account of property relations can, in part, be understood as an institution in Searle’s sense. Drawing on the work of Tamar Schapiro and Arthur Ripstein, I extend this idea to illuminate our ‘ownership’ of our deeds. Second, and more briefly, I present a normative element. Institutional facts need not, in themselves, be morally compelling. Under conditions of relative freedom and equality, however, I argue that practices of responsibility can be seen as a practical manifestation of critique. This generates a critical self-reflexivity that, I suggest, provides normative warrant to the practices of action and responsibility that we institute among ourselves.