Constitutivism: On Rabbits, Hats, and Holy Grails

22 Pages Posted: 9 May 2019

See all articles by David Enoch

David Enoch

Hebrew University - The Philosophy Department and the Law School

Date Written: May 3, 2019


Constitutivism, at a first approximation, is the thought "that we can derive a substantive account of normative reasons for actions… from abstract premises about the nature of action and agency." (Smith, 2015, 187). And it is a natural and attractive thought, because it promises to deliver the normativity of practical reasons – and perhaps of morality with it – in metaphysically and epistemically unproblematic ways. It also, however, faces objections, including my "Shmagency" objection.

In recent years, Michael Smith has been developing a distinctive constitutivist view, one that naturally follows in the footsteps of his previous work, and that is, if he's right, better placed to respond to the objections troubling earlier constitutivist attempts. This chapter is a critical examination of Smith's constitutivism, engaging both some of its unique features, and the ways in which it is, after all, an instance of the more general constitutivist family, and so vulnerable to the Shmagency objection. Critically engaging with Smith's version of constitutivism thus helps to better understand both the prospects and the problems for constitutivism in general.

Keywords: Metaethics, Michael Smith, Constitutivism

Suggested Citation

Enoch, David, Constitutivism: On Rabbits, Hats, and Holy Grails (May 3, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

David Enoch (Contact Author)

Hebrew University - The Philosophy Department and the Law School ( email )

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