Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 7(2008) (peer-reviewed)
In his article `Facts and Principles', G.A. Cohen attempts to refute constructivist approaches to justification by showing that, contrary to what their proponents claim, fundamental normative principles are fact-insensitive. We argue that Cohen's `fact-insensitivity thesis' does not provide a successful refutation of constructivism because it pertains to an area of meta-ethics which differs from the one tackled by constructivists. While Cohen's thesis concerns the logical structure of normative principles, constructivists ask how normative principles should be justified. In particular, their claim that justified fundamental normative principles are fact-sensitive follows from a commitment to agnosticism about the existence of objective moral facts. We therefore conclude that, in order to refute constructivism, Cohen would have to address questions of justification, and take a stand on those long-standing meta-ethical debates about the ontological status of moral notions (for example, realism versus anti-realism) with respect to which he himself wants to remain agnostic.
John Rawls, Normative justification, Realism versus Anti-realism, Methodological versus Substantive Principles