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Moral Generalizations

Edited by Vojko Strahovnik (Faculty of Arts; University of Ljubljana)
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Summary

The debate on moral generalizations predominantly focuses on their nature, scope and function. In this way it is partially parallel to discussion between moral generalism and moral particularism but also goes beyond this issue that debates plausibility of a principled approach to morality. The central topic is whether and how it is possible to capture morally relevant aspects of actions and situation into generalizations. Do moral generalizations cover the whole field of morality or merely a part of it. Can we then state such generalizations merely pro tanto or prima facie or are they exceptionless? Next issue is, what function such generalizations serve. Are they to be understood as regulative principles, a mere guides or do they play no significant role in moral decision-making?

Key works Dancy 1983 discusses the relationship between morally relevant features of situations and moral principles and argues against the possibility of moral generalizations. Lance & Little 2004 develops the theory of defeasible moral generalizations, while Väyrynen 2008 argues for a model of hedged moral generalizations and in a similar vein Holton 2002 argues for "that’s it" model of moral principles. 
Introductions For a general introduction to the debate on moral generalizations see Hooker & Little 2000 and chapter I of McKeever 2006.
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  1. Robert Audi (2006). Ethical Generality and Moral Judgment. In James Lawrence Dreier (ed.), Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory. Blackwell Pub.. 6--285.
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  2. Jonathan Bennett (1960). Moral Argument. Mind 69 (276):544-549.
    The thesis is advanced by R. M. Hare that a judgment on an action or state of affairs is a moral judgment only if the person who makes it accepts some universal moral principle which, together with some true statement about the non-moral characteristics of the situation originally judged, entails the original judgment.1 Instances of this thesis would take some such form as saying that someone who says ‘You ought not to have done what you did’ cannot be expressing a (...)
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  3. David O. Brink (1994). Moral Conflict and its Structure. Philosophical Review 103 (2):215-247.
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  4. Curtis Brown, Moral Truths and Moral Principles.
    In recent years, a number of moral philosophers have held both that there are particular moral truths, and also that there are no general moral principles which explain these particular moral truths--either because there simply are no moral principles, or because moral principles are themselves explained by or derived from particular moral truths rather than vice versa. Often this combination of doctrines is held by philosophers interested in reviving an Aristotelean approach..
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  5. Jonathan Dancy (1983). Ethical Particularism and Morally Relevant Properties. Mind 92 (368):530-547.
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  6. John K. Davis (2012). Applying Principles to Cases and the Problem of Judgment. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15 (4):563 - 577.
    We sometimes decide what to do by applying moral principles to cases, but this is harder than it looks. Principles are more general than cases, and sometimes it is hard to tell whether and how a principle applies to a given case. Sometimes two conflicting principles seem to apply to the same case. To handle these problems, we use a kind of judgment to ascertain whether and how a principle applies to a given case, or which principle to follow when (...)
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  7. Fred Feldman (1974). On the Extensional Equivalence of Simple and General Utilitarianism. Noûs 8 (2):185-194.
  8. Bernard Gert (1998). Virtues and Moral Rules — a Reply. Philosophia 26 (3-4):489-494.
    In his article, Are Virtues No More than Dispositions to Obey Moral Rules (Philosophia, Vol. 20, Nos. 1-2 (July 1990), pp. 195-207), Walter E. Schaller lists three theses that he characterizes as the Standard View of the connection between the virtues and the moral rules and criticizes me for holding two of them. I show that this claim ignores my distinction between moral rules and moral ideals and involves a widespread misunderstanding of what is meant by moral rules.
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  9. Gilbert Harman (2005). Moral Particularism and Transduction. Philosophical Issues 15 (1):44–55.
    Can someone be reasonable or justified in accepting a specific moral judgment not based on the prior acceptance of a general exceptioness moral principle, where acceptance of a general principle might be tacit or implicit and might not be expressible in language? This issue is an instance of a wider issue about direct or transductive inference. Developments in statistical learning theory show that such an inference can be more effective than alternative methods using inductive generalization and so can be reasonable. (...)
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  10. Thomas K. Hearn (1976). General Rules and the Moral Sentiments in Hume's "Treatise". Review of Metaphysics 30 (1):57 - 72.
  11. Brad Hooker (2008). Moral Particularism and the Real World. In Mark Norris Lance, Matjaž Potrč & Vojko Strahovnik (eds.), Challenging Moral Particularism. Routledge. 12--30.
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  12. Terry Horgan & Mark Timmons (2009). What Does the Frame Problem Tell Us About Moral Normativity? Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12 (1):25 - 51.
    Within cognitive science, mental processing is often construed as computation over mental representations—i.e., as the manipulation and transformation of mental representations in accordance with rules of the kind expressible in the form of a computer program. This foundational approach has encountered a long-standing, persistently recalcitrant, problem often called the frame problem; it is sometimes called the relevance problem. In this paper we describe the frame problem and certain of its apparent morals concerning human cognition, and we argue that these morals (...)
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  13. Terry Horgan & Mark Timmons (2007). Morphological Rationalism and the Psychology of Moral Judgment. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10 (3):279 - 295.
    According to rationalism regarding the psychology of moral judgment, people’s moral judgments are generally the result of a process of reasoning that relies on moral principles or rules. By contrast, intuitionist models of moral judgment hold that people generally come to have moral judgments about particular cases on the basis of gut-level, emotion-driven intuition, and do so without reliance on reasoning and hence without reliance on moral principles. In recent years the intuitionist model has been forcefully defended by Jonathan Haidt. (...)
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  14. Nikola Kompa (2004). Moral Particularism and Epistemic Contextualism: Comments on Lance and Little. Erkenntnis 61 (2-3):457 - 467.
    Do we need defeasible generalizations in epistemology, generalizations that are genuinely explanatory yet ineliminably exception-laden? Do we need them to endow our epistemology with a substantial explanatory structure? Mark Lance and Margaret Little argue for the claim that we do. I will argue that we can just as well do without them – at least in epistemology. So in the paper, I am trying to very briefly sketch an alternative contextualist picture. More specifically, the claim will be that although an (...)
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  15. Uri D. Leibowitz (2014). Explaining Moral Knowledge. Journal of Moral Philosophy 11 (1):35-56.
    In this paper I assess the viability of a particularist explanation of moral knowledge. First, I consider two arguments by Sean McKeever and Michael Ridge that purport to show that a generalist, principle-based explanation of practical wisdom—understood as the ability to acquire moral knowledge in a wide range of situations—is superior to a particularist, non-principle-based account. I contend that both arguments are unsuccessful. Then, I propose a particularist-friendly explanation of knowledge of particular moral facts. I argue that when we are (...)
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  16. Don Loeb (1996). Generality and Moral Justification. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56 (1):79-96.
    Demands for generality sometimes exert a powerful influence on our thinking, pressing us to treat more general moral positions, such as consequentialism, as superior to more specific ones, like those which incorporate agent-centered restrictions or prerogatives. I articulate both foundationalist and coherentist versions of the demands for generality and argue that we can best understand these demands in terms of a certain underlying metaphysical commitment. I consider and reject various arguments which might be offered in support of this commitment, and (...)
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  17. Dan López de Sa (2008). 'Defending "Restricted Particularism" From Jackson, Pettit & Smith'. Theoria 62 (2):133–143.
    According to Jackson, Pettit & Smith (2000), “restricted particularism” is not affected by their supervenience-based consideration against particularism but, they claim, suffer from a different difficulty, roughly that it would violate the platitude about moral argument that, in debating controversial moral issues, a central role is played by various similarity claims. I present a defense of “restricted particularism” from this objection, which accommodates the platitudinous character of the claim that ordinary participants in conversations concerning the evaluative are committed to descriptive (...)
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  18. Sean McKeever & Michael Ridge (2007). Turning on Default Reasons. Journal of Moral Philosophy 4 (1):55-76.
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  19. Nenad Miščević (2006). Moral Concepts: From Thickness to Response-Dependence. [REVIEW] Acta Analytica 21 (1):3-32.
    The paper examines three tenets of Dancy’s meta-ethics, finds them incompatible, and proposes a response-dependentist (or response-dispositional) solution. The first tenet is the central importance of thick concepts and properties. The second is that such concepts essentially involve response(s) of observers, which Dancy interprets in a way that fits the pattern of context-dependent resultance: thick concepts are well suited for the particularist grounding of moral theory. However, and this is the third tenet, in his earlier paper (1986) Dancy forcefully argues (...)
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  20. Paul M. Pietroski (1994). Executing the Second Best Option. Analysis 54 (4):201-207.
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  21. Matjaž Potrč & Vojko Strahovnik (2013). Moral Dilemmas and Vagueness. Acta Analytica 28 (2):207-222.
    In this paper we point out some interesting structural similarities between vagueness and moral dilemmas as well as between some of the proposed solutions to both problems. Moral dilemma involves a situation with opposed obligations that cannot all be satisfied. Transvaluationism as an approach to vagueness makes three claims concerning the nature of vagueness: (1) it involves incompatibility between mutually unsatisfiable requirements, (2) the underlying requirements retain their normative power even when they happen to be overruled, and (3) this incompatibility (...)
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  22. Michael Ridge (2005). What Does Holism Have to Do with Moral Particularism? Ratio 18 (1):93-103.
    Moral particularists are united in their opposition to the codification of morality, and their work poses an important challenge to traditional ways of thinking about moral philosophy. Defenders of moral particularism have, with near unanimity, sought support from a doctrine they call “holism in the theory of reasons.” We argue that this is all a mistake. There are two ways in which holism in the theory of reasons can be understood, but neither provides any support for moral particularism. Moral particularists (...)
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  23. Denis Robinson (2010). Reflections on Moral Disagreement, Relativism, and Skepticism About Rules. Philosophical Topics 38 (2):131-156.
    Part I of this paper discusses some uses of arguments from radical moral disagreement — in particular, as directed against absolutist cognitivism — and surveys some semantic issues thus made salient. It may be argued that parties to such a disagreement cannot be using the relevant moral claims with exactly the same absolutist cognitive content. That challenges the absolutist element of absolutist cognitivism, which, combined with the intractable nature of radical moral disagreement, in turn challenges the viability of a purely (...)
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  24. Luke Robinson (2008). Moral Principles Are Not Moral Laws. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 2 (3):1-22.
    What are moral principles? The assumption underlying much of the generalism–particularism debate in ethics is that they are (or would be) moral laws: generalizations or some special class thereof, such as explanatory or counterfactual-supporting generalizations. I argue that this law conception of moral principles is mistaken. For moral principles do at least three things that moral laws cannot do, at least not in their own right: explain certain phenomena, provide particular kinds of support for counterfactuals, and ground moral necessities, “necessary (...)
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  25. Luke Robinson (2006). Moral Holism, Moral Generalism, and Moral Dispositionalism. Mind 115 (458):331-360.
    Moral principles play important roles in diverse areas of moral thought, practice, and theory. Many who think of themselves as ‘moral generalists’ believe that moral principles can play these roles—that they are capable of doing so. Moral generalism maintains that moral principles can and do play these roles because true moral principles are statements of general moral fact (i.e. statements of facts about the moral attributes of kinds of actions, kinds of states of affairs, etc.) and because general moral facts (...)
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  26. Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen (1999). Particularism and Principles. Theoria 65 (2-3):114-126.
  27. Constantine Sandis (2006). Dancy Cartwright: Particularism in the Philosophy of Science. [REVIEW] Acta Analytica 21 (2):30-40.
    This paper aims to explore the space of possible particularistic approaches to Philosophy of Science by examining the differences and similarities between Jonathan Dancy’s moral particularism—as expressed in both his earlier writings (e.g., Moral Reasons , 1993), and, more explicitly defended in his book Ethics without Principles (2004)—and Nancy Cartwright’s particularism in the philosophy of science, as defended in her early collection of essays, How the Laws of Physics Lie (1983), and her later book, The Dappled World: A Study of (...)
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  28. Mark Schroeder (2009). Jonathan Dancy. Ethics Without Principles (Oxford University Press, 2004)Sean McKeever and Michael Ridge. Principled Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2006). [REVIEW] Noûs 43 (3):568-580.
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  29. Ira Singer (2011). Principled Ethics: Generalism as a Regulative Ideal. By Sean McKeever and Michael Ridge. Metaphilosophy 42 (1-2):170-177.
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  30. Jane Singleton (2004). Neither Generalism nor Particularism: Ethical Correctness is Located in General Ethical Theories. Journal of Moral Philosophy 1 (2):155-175.
    In this article I shall be supporting two main claims. The first is that the essence of the difference between particularism and generalism lies in where they locate ethical correctness. The second is that generalism, although to be preferred to particularism, is not the final resting place for ethical correctness. Ultimately, ethical correctness resides in ethical theories that provide the rationale for generalism. Particularism is presented as a theory that allows attention to be paid to specific cases and shows a (...)
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  31. Rebecca Lynn Stangl (2006). Particularism and the Point of Moral Principles. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 9 (2):201 - 229.
    According to radical moral particularists such as Jonathan Dancy, there are no substantive moral principles. And yet, few particularists wish to deny that something very like moral principles do indeed play a significant role in our everyday moral practice. Loathe at dismissing this as mere error on the part of everyday moral agents, particularists have proposed a number of alternative accounts of the practice. The aim of all of these accounts is to make sense of our appeal to general moral (...)
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  32. Vojko Strahovnik, Matjaz Potrc & Mark Norris Lance (eds.) (2008). Challenging Moral Particularism. Routledge.
    Particularism is a justly popular ‘cutting-edge’ topic in contemporary ethics across the world. Many moral philosophers do not, in fact, support particularism (instead defending "generalist" theories that rest on particular abstract moral principles), but nearly all would take it to be a position that continues to offer serious lessons and challenges that cannot be safely ignored. Given the high standard of the contributions, and that this is a subject where lively debate continues to flourish, Challenging Moral Particularism will become required (...)
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  33. Alan Thomas, Practical Reasoning and Normative Relevance: A Reply to Ridge and McKeever.
    The central concern of McKeever & Ridge’s paper is with whether or not the moral particularist can formulate a defensible distinction between default and non-default reasons. [McKeever & Ridge 2004] But that issue is only of concern to the particularist, they argue, because it allows him or her to avoid a deeper problem, an unacceptable “flattening of the normative landscape”. The particularist ought, McKeever & Ridge claim, to view this corollary of his or her position as a serious embarrassment. Unpacking (...)
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  34. Alan Thomas (2011). Another Particularism: Reasons, Status and Defaults. [REVIEW] Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 14 (2):151-167.
    This paper makes the non-monotonicity of a wide range of moral reasoning the basis of a case for particularism. Non-monotonicity threatens practical decision with an overwhelming informational complexity to which a form of ethical generalism seems the best response. It is argued that this impression is wholly misleading: the fact of non-monotonicity is best accommodated by the defence of four related theses in any theory of justification. First, the explanation of and defence of a default/challenge model of justification. Secondly, the (...)
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  35. Alan Thomas (1995). Review of Dancy's Moral Reasons. [REVIEW] Mind 104 (415):628-632.
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  36. Peter Shiu-Hwa Tsu (2009). How the Ceteris Paribus Principles of Morality Lie. Public Reason 2 (1):89-94.
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  37. Peter Shiu-Hwa Tsu (2008). Book Note on Principled Ethics: Generalism as a Regulative Ideal. [REVIEW] Australasian Journal of Philosophy 86 (3):521-524.
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  38. Pekka Väyrynen (forthcoming). Reasons and Moral Principles. In Daniel Star (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Reasons and Normativity.
    This paper is a survey of the generalism-particularism debate and related issues concerning the relationship between normative reasons and moral principles.
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  39. Pekka Väyrynen (2011). Moral Particularism. In Christian B. Miller (ed.), Continuum Companion to Ethics. Continuum. 478-483.
    This paper is a survey of the generalism-particularism debate in ethics.
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  40. Pekka Väyrynen (2009). A Theory of Hedged Moral Principles. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume 4. Oxford University Press. 91-132.
    This paper offers a general model of substantive moral principles as a kind of hedged moral principles that can (but don't have to) tolerate exceptions. I argue that the kind of principles I defend provide an account of what would make an exception to them permissible. I also argue that these principles are nonetheless robustly explanatory with respect to a variety of moral facts; that they make sense of error, uncertainty, and disagreement concerning moral principles and their implications; and that (...)
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  41. Pekka Väyrynen (2006). Moral Generalism: Enjoy in Moderation. Ethics 116 (4):707-741.
    I defend moral generalism against particularism. Particularism, as I understand it, is the negation of the generalist view that particular moral facts depend on the existence of a comprehensive set of true moral principles. Particularists typically present "the holism of reasons" as powerful support for their view. While many generalists accept that holism supports particularism but dispute holism, I argue that generalism accommodates holism. The centerpiece of my strategy is a novel model of moral principles as a kind of "hedged" (...)
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  42. Dietmar von der Pfordten (2012). Five Elements of Normative Ethics - A General Theory of Normative Individualism. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15 (4):449 - 471.
    The article tries to inquire a third way in normative ethics between consequentialism or utilitarianism and deontology or Kantianism. To find such a third way in normative ethics, one has to analyze the elements of these classical theories and to look if they are justified. In this article it is argued that an adequate normative ethics has to contain the following five elements: (1) normative individualism, i. e., the view that in the last instance moral norms and values can only (...)
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