It is widely acknowledged that moral principles are not sufficient to guide moral thought and action: they need to be supplemented by a capacity for judgement. However, why can we not rely on this capacity for moral judgement alone? Why do moral principles need to be supplemented, but are not supplanted, by judgement? So-called moral particularists argue that we can, and should, make moral decisions on a case-by-case basis without any principles. According to particularists, the person of moral judgement is (...) a person of empathy, sensibility and virtue, rather than a person of principle. In this paper I argue that this is a false dichotomy. The person of good moral judgement is a person of principle. I propose that we think of moral principles as internalised long-term commitments that form our moral character and sensitivity, and, as such, are constitutive of moral judgement. (shrink)
Atomism is defined as the view that the moral value of any object is ultimately determined by simple features whose contribution to the value of an object is always the same, independently of context. A morally fundamental feature, in a given context, is defined as one whose contribution in that context is determined by no other value fact. Three theses are defended, which together entail atomism: (1) All objects have their moral value ultimately in virtue of morally fundamental features; (2) (...) If a feature is morally fundamental, then its contribution is always the same; (3) Morally fundamental features are simple. (shrink)
Some opponents of ethical particularism complain that particularists cannot give a plausible account of moral education. After considering and rejecting a number of arguments to this conclusion, I focus on the following objection: Particularism, at least in Jonathan Dancy's version, has nothing to say about moral education because it lacks a substantial account of moral competence. By Dancy's own admission, particularists can tell us little more than that a competent agent 'gets things right case by case'. I respond by reflecting (...) on how we want our children to turn out, morally speaking. I argue that we can present a compelling story about our aspirations for our children's moral development that is consistent with particularism and that provides the beginnings of a plausible account of the competence we look to moral education to instil. (shrink)
In his influential paper, ‘General Criteria and Reasons in Aesthetics’, Frank Sibley outlines what is taken to be a generalist view (shared with Beardsley) such that there are general reasons for aesthetic judgement, and his account of the behaviour of such reasons, which differs from Beardsley's. In this paper my aim is to illuminate Sibley's position by employing a distinction that has arisen in meta-ethics in response to recent work by Jonathan Dancy in particular. Contemporary research involves two related yet (...) distinct debates: (i) that between the particularist and the generalist on the status of moral principles; and (ii) that between holists and atomists on the nature of reasons. This division of labour has no correlate within the aesthetic particularism–generalism debate, and I will show how the ideas developed in relation to meta-ethics illuminate a difficulty with Sibley's view. I argue that we should understand Sibley as subscribing to both particularism and a version of holism about aesthetic reasons. (shrink)
In this paper I examine a contemporary debate about the general notion of linguistic rules and the place of context in determining meaning, which has arisen in the wake of a challenge that the conceptual framework of moral particularism has brought to the table. My aim is to show that particularism in the theory of meaning yields an attractive model of linguistic competence that stands as a genuine alternative to other use-oriented but still generalist accounts that allow room for context-sensitivity (...) in deciding how the linguistic rules would apply in concrete cases. I argue that the ideas developed in relation to particularism in meta-ethics illuminate a difficulty with the modest generalist view, one that can be resolved by adopting semantic particularism instead. (shrink)
Moral particularists argue that because reasons for action are irreducibly context-dependent, the traditional quest in ethics for true and exceptionless moral principles is hopelessly misguided. In making this claim, particularists assume a general framework according to which reasons are the ground floor normative units undergirding all other normative properties and relations. They then argue that there is no cashing out in finite terms either (i) when a given non-normative feature gives rise to a reason for or against action, or (ii) (...) how the reasons that are present in a given context play off each other to determine one’s overall duties. However, the conjunction of these two theses leaves particularists without a coherent notion of a reason for action: posit too much irreducible context-dependence in the behavior of reasons, and the reasons-based framework breaks down. One upshot is that the particularists’ challenge to principle-based approaches to ethics has not, at present, been successfully made out; another upshot is that perhaps the best way to formulate that challenge involves renouncing the reasons-based framework all together. (shrink)
William Kingdon Clifford proposed a vigorous ethics of belief, according to which you are morally prohibited from believing something on insufficient evidence. Though Clifford offers numerous considerations in favor of his ethical theory, the conclusion he wants to draw turns out not to follow from any reasonable assumptions. In fact, I will argue, regardless of how you propose to understand the notion of evidence, it is implausible that we could have a moral obligation to refrain from believing something whenever we (...) lack sufficient evidence. I will argue, however, that there are wide-scope conditional requirements on beliefs but the beliefs in question need not be beliefs for which we have sufficient evidence. I then argue that we are epistemically, but not morally, required to form epistemically valuable beliefs. However, these beliefs, too, need not be beliefs for which we have sufficient evidence. (shrink)
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..
This paper is a discussion of Jonathan Dancy's book Ethics Without Principles (2004). Holism about reasons is distinguished into a weak version, which allows for invariant reasons, and a strong, which doesn't. Four problems with Dancy's arguments for strong holism are identified. (1) A plausible particularism based on it will be close to generalism. (2) Dancy rests his case on common-sense morality, without justifying it. (3) His examples are of non-ultimate reasons. (4) There are certain universal principles it is hard (...) not to see as invariant, such as that the fact that some action causes of suffering to a non-rational being always counts against it. The main difficulty with weak holism is that justification can be seen as analogous to explanation, which will give us an atomistic and generalist conception of a normative reason. Key Words: Dancy generalism holism particularism reasons. (shrink)
[Garrett Cullity] Weak particularism about reasons is the view that the normative valency of some descriptive considerations varies, while others have an invariant normative valency. A defence of this view needs to respond to arguments that a consideration cannot count in favour of any action unless it counts in favour of every action. But it cannot resort to a global holism about reasons, if it claims that there are some examples of invariant valency. This paper argues for weak particularism, and (...) presents a framework for understanding the relationships between practical reasons. A central part of this framework is the idea that there is an important kind of reason-a 'presumptive reason'-which need not be conclusive, but which is neither pro tanto nor prima facie. /// [Richard Holton] Should particularists about ethics claim that moral principles are never true? Or should they rather claim that any finite set of principles will not be sufficient to capture ethics? This paper explores and defends the possibility of embracing the second of these claims whilst rejecting the first, a position termed 'principled particularism'. The main argument that particularists present for their position-the argument that holds that any moral conclusion can be superseded by further considerations-is quite compatible with principled particularism; indeed, it is compatible with the idea that every true moral conclusion can be shown to follow deductively from a finite set of premises. Whilst it is true that these premises must contain implicit ceteris paribus clauses, this does not render the arguments trivial. On the contrary, they can do important work in justifying moral conclusions. Finally the approach is briefly applied to the related field of jurisprudence. (shrink)
In this paper I consider what might be my best response to various difficulties and challenges that emerged at a conference held at the University of Kent in December 2004, the contributions to which are given in the same volume. I comment on Crisp's distinction between ultimate and non-ultimate reasons, and reply to McKeever and Ridge on default reasons, and to Norman on the idea of a reason for action. I don't here consider what other particularists might want to say; (...) I certainly don't think that my way of doing these things is the only possible one, but not surprisingly I am interested in seeing what resources it might have to defend itself. Key Words: default favouring particularism reasons right-making. (shrink)
In this much-anticipated book, Jonathan Dancy offers the only available full-scale treatment of particularism in ethics, a view with which he has been associated for twenty years. Dancy now presents particularism as the view that the possibility of moral thought and judgement does not in any way depend on an adequate supply of principles. He grounds this claim on a form of reasons-holism, holding that what is a reason in one case need not be any reason in another, and maintaining (...) that moral reasons are no different in this respect from others. Ethics Without Principles offers detailed treatment and criticism of opposing positions of all sorts, with useful summaries. It also contains three chapters on the nature of what Dancy calls 'contributory' reasons, which, though the topic of much interest at the moment, are not often discussed in anything like the detail given here. And it offers a distinctive form of value-holism to go with the holism of reasons. As Dancy's definitive statement on particularism, the book will be required reading for all those working on moral philosophy and ethical theory. (shrink)
This paper is an attempt to answer the charge that extreme moral particularism is unable to explain the possibility of moral concepts and our ability to acquire them. This charge is based on the claim that we acquire moral concepts from experience of instances, and that the sorts of similarities that there must be between the instances are ones that only a generalist can countenance. I argue that this inference is unsound.
This book attempts to place a realist view of ethics (the claim that there are facts of the matter in ethics as elsewhere) within a broader context. It starts with a discussion of why we should mind about the difference between right and wrong, asks what account we should give of our ability to learn from our moral experience, and looks in some detail at the different sorts of ways in which moral reasons can combine to show us what we (...) should do in the circumstances. The second half of the book uses these results to mount an attack on consequentialism in ethics, arguing that there are more sorts of reasons around than consequentialists can even dream of. (shrink)
Campbell Brown has recently argued that G.E. Moore's intrinsic value holism is superior to Jonathan Dancy's. I show that the advantage which Brown claims for Moore's view over Dancy's is illusory, and that Dancy's view may be superior.
An important shift occurs in Martin Heidegger’s thinking one year after the publication of Being and Time , in the Appendix to the Metaphysical Foundations of Logic . The shift is from his project of fundamental ontology—which provides an existential analysis of human existence on an ontological level—to metontology . Metontology is a neologism that refers to the ontic sphere of human experience and to the regional ontologies that were excluded from Being and Time. It is within metontology, Heidegger states, (...) that “the question of ethics may be raised for the first time.” This paper makes explicit both Heidegger’s argument for metontology , and the relation between metontology and ethics. In examining what he means by “the art of existing,” the paper argues that there is an ethical dimension to Heidegger’s thinking that corresponds to a moderate form of moral particularism. In order to justify this position, a comparative analysis is made between Heidegger, Aristotle, and Bernard Williams. (shrink)
Abstract: The point of this paper is to undermine the support that particularism in the domain of epistemic reasons might seem to give to particularism in the domain of practical reasons. In the epistemic domain, there are two related notions: truth and the rationality of belief. Epistemic reasons are related to the rationality of belief, and not directly to truth. In the domain of practical reasons, however, the role of truth is taken by the notion of objective rationality. Practical reasons (...) are directly relevant to this objective notion, and therefore the reasons to expect holism and particularism in the epistemic domain do not transfer to the domain of practical rationality. (shrink)
Pleasure is one of the strongest candidates for an occurrence that might be good, in some respect, unconditionally. Malicious pleasure is one of the most often cited alleged counter-examples to pleasure’s being an unconditional good. Correctly evaluating malicious pleasure is more complex than people realize. I defend pleasure’s unconditionally good status from critics of malicious pleasure.
That all pleasure is good and all pain bad in itself is an eternally true ethical principle. The common claim that some pleasure is not good, or some pain not bad, is mistaken. Strict particularism (ethical decisions must be made case by case; there are no sound universal normative principles) and relativism (all good and bad are relative to society) are among the ethical theories we may refute through an appeal to pleasure and pain. Daniel Dennett, Philippa Foot, R M (...) Hare, Gilbert Harman, Immanuel Kant, J. L. Mackie, and Jean-Paul Sartre are among the many philosophers addressed. (shrink)
‘Particularism’ and ‘generalism’ refer to families of positions in the philosophy of moral reasoning, with the former playing down the importance of principles, rules or standards, and the latter stressing their importance. Part of the debate has taken an empirical turn, and this turn has implications for AI research and the philosophy of cognitive modeling. In this paper, Jonathan Dancy’s approach to particularism (arguably one of the best known and most radical approaches) is questioned both on logical and empirical grounds. (...) Doubts are raised over whether Dancy’s brand of particularism can adequately explain the graded nature of similarity assessments in analogical arguments. Also, simple recurrent neural network models of moral case classification are presented and discussed. This is done to raise concerns about Dancy’s suggestion that neural networks can help us to understand how we could classify situations in a way that is compatible with his particularism. Throughout, the idea of a surveyable standard—one with restricted length and complexity—plays a key role. Analogical arguments are taken to involve multidimensional similarity assessments, and surveyable contributory standards are taken to be attempts to articulate the dimensions of similarity that may exist between cases. This work will be of relevance both to those who have interests in computationally modeling human moral cognition and to those who are interested in how such models may or may not improve our philosophical understanding of such cognition. (shrink)
Crisp is right to detect a clash between Dancy's leading formulation of holism about reasons and the phenomenon of invariance. Replying to Crisp on behalf of the particularist, I suggest a better formulation of holism modelled on a standard treatment in the philosophy of language of context-sensitive expressions. Key Words: context-sensitivity Crisp Dancy holism invariance particularism.
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. (...) This result carries over to moral transduction, although it is a difficult empirical issue whether people actually engage in any sort of transduction, including moral transduction. (shrink)
This paper is a defence of a holistic version of the generalist view of moral reasoning based on prima facie principles. In Section 1 I summarise Dancy’s arguments for particularism. Then I argue that particularism goes against strong intuitions regarding reasoning in general (Section 2), fails to account for the asymmetry of reasons (Section 3) and to make sense of compunction and moral imbecility (Section 4). I conclude (Section 5) that a holistic generalism is the right view of moral reasoning. (...) Then I discuss Dancy’s objections to it. I argue that Dancy’s appeal to default reasons is philosophically equivalent to a holistic version of generalism, and hence incompatible with particularism (Section 6) and that his resistance to accept holistic generalism is the result of a foundationalist view of reasoning (Section 7). As an alternative to foundationalism I defend an Aristotelian dialectical view of moral reasoning. (shrink)
Should particularists about ethics claim that moral principles are never true? Or should they rather claim that any finite set of principles will not be sufficient to capture ethics? This paper explores and defends the possibility of embracing the second of these claims whilst rejecting the first, a position termed principled particularism. The main argument that particularists present for their position - the argument that holds that any moral conclusion can be superceded by further considerations - is quite compatible with (...) principled particularism; indeed, it is compatible with the idea that every true moral conclusion can be shown to follow deductively from a finite set of premises. Whilst it is true that these premises must contain implicit ceteris paribus clauses, this does not render the arguments trivial. On the contrary, they can do important work in justifying moral conclusions. Finally the approach is briefly applied to the related field of jurisprudence. (shrink)
The term ‘moral particularism’ has been used to refer to different doctrines. The main body of this paper begins by identifying the most important doctrines associated with the term, at least as the term is used by Jonathan Dancy, on whose work I will focus. I then discuss whether holism in the theory of reasons supports moral particularism, and I call into question the thesis that particular judgements have epistemological priority over general principles. Dancy’s recent book Ethics without Principles (Dancy (...) 2004) makes much of a distinction between reasons, enablers, disablers, intensi- ﬁers, and attenuators. I will suggest that the distinction is unnecessary, and I will argue that, even if there is such a distinction, it does not entail moral particularism. In the ﬁnal two sections, I try to give improved versions of arguments against particularism that I put forward in my paper ‘Moral Particularism: Wrong and Bad’ (Hooker 2000b: 1–22, esp. pp. 7–11, 15–22). (shrink)
Bernard Williams influentially attacked ethical theory. This paper assesses arguments for the ‘anti-theory’ position in ethics, including mainly arguments put forward by Williams but also arguments put forward by others. The paper begins by discussing what is supposed to be theory in ethics and what ethical intuitions are taken to be by those involved in the theory versus anti-theory debate. Then the paper responds to the objections that ethical theory is mistaken to prize principles, mistaken to prize rationalism, mistaken to (...) presume or prize foundational unity, mistaken to presume morality is deeply impartial, mistaken to presume to tell agents how to deliberate, mistaken to presume or prize ethical codifiability, mistaken to presume value commensurability, and mistaken to eliminate ethical dilemmas. (shrink)
A timely and penetrating investigation, this book seeks to transform moral philosophy. In the face of continuing disagreement about which general moral principles are correct, there has been a resurgence of interest in the idea that correct moral judgements can be only about particular cases. This view--moral particularism--forecasts a revolution in ordinary moral practice that has until now consisted largely of appeals to general moral principles. Moral particularism also opposes the primary aim of most contemporary normative moral theory that attempts (...) to show that either one general principle, or a set of general principles, is superior to all its rivals. (shrink)
The goal of this paper is to frame a theory of reasons--what they are, how they support actions or conclusions--using the tools of default logic. After sketching the basic account of reasons as provided by defaults, I show how it can be elaborated to deal with two more complicated issues: first, situations in which the priority relation among defaults, and so reasons as well, is itself established through default reasoning; second, the treatment of undercutting defeat and exclusionary reasons. Finally, and (...) by way of application, I show how the resulting account can shed some light on Jonathan Dancy's argument from reason holism to a form of extreme particularism in moral theory. (shrink)
This book provides answers to both normative and metaethical questions in a way that shows the interconnection of both types of questions, and also shows how a complete theory of reasons can be developed by moving back and forth between the two types of questions. It offers an account of the nature of intimate relationships and of the nature of the reasons that intimacy provides, and then uses that account to defend a traditional intuitionist metaethics. The book thus combines attention (...) to the details of the lived moral life – the context in which many of our most pressing moral questions arise, how we deliberate and make moral decisions, the complexities that plague our attempts to know what we ought to do – with theoretical rigor in offering an account of the nature of reasons, how we come to have moral knowledge, and how we can adjudicate between competing positions. (shrink)
Some particularists have argued that even virtue properties can exhibit a form of holism or context variance, e.g. sometimes an act is worse for being kind, say. But, on a common conception of virtuous acts, one derived from Aristotle, claims of virtue holism will be shown to be false. I argue, perhaps surprisingly, that on this conception the virtuousness of an act is not a reason to do it, and hence this conception of virtuous acts presents no challenge to particularist (...) claims about the context variance of reasons. Still, I argue that the virtues nevertheless have important implications for our understanding of the particularism debate. Specifically, we can accept the particularist claim that reasons do not need to be principled in order to have the normative status that they do have, while still maintaining that sound moral thought and judgement has a principled structure understood in terms of the virtues. (shrink)