Abstraction and Justification in Moral Theory

Hypatia 25 (4):825-833 (2010)
Abstract
Ethicists of care have objected to traditional moral philosophy's reliance upon abstract universal principles. They claim that the use of abstraction renders traditional theories incapable of capturing morally relevant, particular features of situations. I argue that this objection sometimes conflates two different levels of moral thinking: the level of justification and the level of deliberation. Specifically, I claim that abstraction or attention to context at the level of justification does not entail, as some critics seem to think, a commitment to abstraction or attention to context at the level of deliberation. It follows that critics who reject a theory's use of abstraction at the level of justification have not shown that the theory recommends abstraction at the level of deliberation and that it, therefore, compels the deliberating agent to overlook morally salient details
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