The many moral particularisms

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 35 (1):83 - 106 (2005)
Abstract
What place, if any, moral principles should or do have in moral life has been a longstanding question for moral philosophy. For some, the proposition that moral philosophy should strive to articulate moral principles has been an article of faith. At least since Aristotle, however, there has been a rich counter-tradition that questions the possibility or value of trying to capture morality in principled terms. In recent years, philosophers who question principled approaches to morality have argued under the banner of moral particularism. Particularists can be found in diverse areas of philosophical inquiry, and their positions and arguments are of broad interest.1 Despite its importance, a proper evaluation of particularism has been hindered both by the diversity of arguments employed to defend it, and, perhaps more significantly, by the diversity of positions that can fairly claim to be particularist. Our aim is first to explicate particularism by identifying a unified range of particularist theses and explaining both what unites them as versions of particularism as well as what distinguishes them from each other. We then articulate and evaluate the main arguments for particularism and explain how each is especially well-suited to supporting some conceptions of particularism rather than others. We tentatively conclude that the positive arguments for particularism are not convincing. They do, however, reveal particularism to be a surprisingly resilient position, one that is not readily refuted..
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