Against Cognitivism About Personhood
Wagner (Nils-Frederic)
Source: Erkenntnis, (2019) 84:657–686
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. The present paper unravels ontological and normative conditions of personhood for the purpose of critiquing ‘Cognitivist Views’. Such views have attracted much attention and affirmation by presenting the ontology of personhood in terms of higher-order cognition on the basis of which normative practices are explained and justified. However, these normative conditions are invoked to establish the alleged ontology in the first place.
  2. When we want to know what kind of entity has full moral status, it is tempting to establish an ontology that fits our moral intuitions about who should qualify for such unique normative standing. But this approach conflates personhood’s ontology and normativity insofar as it stresses the primacy of the former while implicitly presupposing the latter; it thereby suffers from a ‘Normative Fallacy’ by inferring from ‘ought’ to ‘is’.
  3. Following my critique of Cognitivism, I sketch an alternative conception, contending that, whereas the Cognitivist ontology of personhood presupposes the normative, a social ontology is constituted by it.
  4. In due consideration of evidence from developmental psychology, the social embeddedness of persons — manifested in the ability of taking a ‘second-person stance’ — is identified as a key feature of personhood that precedes higher-order cognition, and is directly linked to basic normative concerns.

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