Thinking without global generalisations: A cognitive defence of moral particularism

Inquiry 51 (4):390 – 411 (2008)
In their article entitled “Ethical Particularism and Patterns”, Frank Jackson, Philip Pettit, and Michael Smith (JPS henceforth) argue that moral particularism is a cognitively implausible theory since it appears to entail the view that one might have a skill that is not grounded in an ability to recognise and represent natural patterns in the world. This charge echoes the complaints of computational theorists of cognition against their embodied cognition counterparts, namely that, theories of cognition that eschew talk of mental representation are implausible qua theories of cognition. In both debates, the cognitive role of generalisation is central to the discussion; however, contrary to the received wisdom, I want to suggest that the dispute is not between generalisation or mental representation on the one hand and no generalisation or mental representation on the other, but rather between what I will call global and local generalisation. Using the dialogue between JPS and Dancy (our paradigm particularist) to frame this discussion, I show that by replacing Dancy's connectionist model for particularist reasoning with a case-based one, we not only vindicate his response to JPS, but we also gain insight into how it is the global/local distinction rather than the generalisation/no generalisation distinction that divides the two views.
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Jonathan Dancy (1999). Can a Particularist Learn the Difference Between Right and Wrong? The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy 1:59-72.

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