Moral Particularism

Edited by Uri D. Leibowitz (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
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Summary

What role, if any, should principles play in our moral theorizing and in our moral practice? Generalists hold that moral principles are indispensable to morality. Particularists challenge this claim. As the leading particularist Jonathan Dancy describes it, particularism is the view that “moral thought and judgement in no way depends on a suitable provision of [moral principles].”  Dancy’s own work focused on developing a novel holistic theory of reasons according to which “what is a reason in one case may be no reason at all in another, or even a reason on the other side.” Dancy 2004 is a must read for anyone interested in this topic. Interest in particularism has grown over the past 20-30 years. There are now various formulations of the central particularist commitment and many interesting criticisms of the particularist research program (many of which are collected in this category). One of the central critical texts is McKeever & Ridge 2006. A very informative collection on the topic is Hooker & Little 2000, and more recently Potrc et al 2007.

Introductions Dancy 2009 Leibowitz 2009
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  1. The Metaphysics of Moral Conflict.Author unknown - manuscript
    One of the more fundamental questions raised by the generalism–particularism debate in ethics is just what a right-making factor (or reason) is. I contrast two possible conceptions of such factors and defend the second. The first understands right-making factors in terms of moral laws, and variants of it are advanced by writers on either side of the generalism–particularism debate. The second understands right-making factors in terms of right-making properties conceived dispositionally—i.e., as powers, capacities, etc. I defend the latter, dispositionalist conception (...)
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  2. Wide-Scope Requirements and the Ethics of Belief.Berit Brogaard - forthcoming - In Jonathan Matheson & Rico Vitz (eds.), The Ethics of Belief.
    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 (...)
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  3. “Adding Up” Reasons: Lessons for Reductive and Non-Reductive Approaches.Shyam Nair - forthcoming - Ethics.
    How do multiple reasons combine to support a conclusion about what to do or believe? This question raises two challenges: (1) how can we represent the strength of a reason? (2) how do the strengths of multiple reasons combine?. Analogous challenges about confirmation have been answered using probabilistic tools. Can reductive and non-reductive theories of reasons use these tools to answer their challenges? Yes, or more exactly: Reductive theories can answer both challenges. Non-reductive theories, with the help of a (new?) (...)
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  4. Problems for Hard Moral Particularism: Can We Really Dismiss General Reasons?Dario Cecchini - 2020 - Philosophical Inquiries 8 (2):31-46.
    Moral particularism, in its extreme version, is the theory that argues that there are no invariant context-independent moral reasons. It states also that moral knowledge is not constituted by principles and that these are useless or harmful in practice. In this paper, I intend to argue that this position takes context-sensitiveness of reasons too seriously and has to face many philosophical problems—mainly because its most important argument (the argument from holism of reasons) is not convincing but also because a pluralist (...)
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  5. Not All Partial Grounds Partly Ground: Some Useful Distinctions in the Theory of Grounding.Shlomit Wygoda Cohen - 2020 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 100 (1):75-92.
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, EarlyView.
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  6. Are There Indefeasible Epistemic Rules?Darren Bradley - 2019 - Philosophers' Imprint 19.
    What if your peers tell you that you should disregard your perceptions? Worse, what if your peers tell you to disregard the testimony of your peers? How should we respond if we get evidence that seems to undermine our epistemic rules? Several philosophers have argued that some epistemic rules are indefeasible. I will argue that all epistemic rules are defeasible. The result is a kind of epistemic particularism, according to which there are no simple rules connecting descriptive and normative facts. (...)
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  7. Exceptions in Nonderivative Value.Garrett Cullity - 2019 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 98 (1):26-49.
    According to most substantive axiological theories – theories telling us which things are good and bad – pleasure is nonderivatively good. This seems to imply that it is always good, even when directed towards a bad object, such as another person’s suffering. This implication is accepted by the Mainstream View about misdirected pleasures: it holds that when someone takes pleasure in another person’s suffering, his being pleased is good, although his being pleased by suffering is bad. This view gains some (...)
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  8. Defeaters and Practical Knowledge.Carla Bagnoli - 2018 - Synthese 195 (7):2855-2875.
    This paper situates the problem of defeaters in a larger debate about the source of normative authority. It argues in favour of a constructivist account of defeasibility, which appeals to the justificatory role of normative principles. The argument builds upon the critique of two recent attempts to deal with defeasibility: first, a particularist account, which disposes of moral principles on the ground that reasons are holistic; and second, a proceduralist view, which addresses the problem of defeaters by distinguishing between provisional (...)
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  9. Universalizability and the Metaphysics of Moral Particularism, Specified.Edward Moad - 2018 - Philosophical Forum 49 (3):309-324.
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  10. Reasons and Moral Principles.Pekka Väyrynen - 2018 - In Daniel Star (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Reasons and Normativity. pp. 839-61.
    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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  11. The Problem of Relevant Descriptions and the Scope of Moral Principles.Irina Schumski - 2017 - European Journal of Philosophy 25 (4):1588-1613.
    In her seminal attack on modern moral philosophy, G. E. M. Anscombe claims that Kant's ‘rule about universalizable maxims is useless without stipulations as to what shall count as a relevant description of an action with a view to constructing a maxim about it’. Although this so-called problem of relevant descriptions has received considerable attention in the literature, there is little agreement on how it should be understood or solved. My aim in this paper is, first, to clarify the problem (...)
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  12. Maike Albertzart: Moral Principles: Bloomsbury Academic, London/New Delhi/New York/Sydney 2014 , ISBN 9781472574190, 264 Pages, £ 17,99.Tobias Gutmann - 2016 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (2):563-564.
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  13. Particularism Doesn’T Flatten.Amelia Hicks - 2016 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 13 (3):339-362.
    Sean McKeever and Michael Ridge object that moral particularism ‘flattens the moral landscape’, that is, that particularism treats reasons of different kinds as if they were reasons of the same kind. This objection is misguided in two respects. First, particularists need not say that every feature can be a moral reason. Second, even if particularists were committed to saying that every feature can be a moral reason, they would still not be committed to the view that every feature can have (...)
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  14. John Dewey and the Possibility of Particularist Moral Education.Nate Jackson - 2016 - Southwest Philosophy Review 32 (1):215-224.
    John Dewey’s analyses of habit and tradition enable contemporary moral particularists to make sense of the possibility of moral education. Particularists deny that rules determine an act’s moral worth. Using Jonathan Dancy’s recent work, I present a particularist account of moral competence and call attention to a lacuna in particularism: an account of education. For Dancy, reasoning requires attunement to a situation’s salient features. Dewey’s account of habit explains how features can exhibit salience without appeal to rules, and I look (...)
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  15. Moral Particularism and the Role of Imaginary Cases: A Pragmatist Approach.Nate Jackson - 2016 - European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy 8 (1):237-259.
    I argue that John Dewey’s analysis of imagination enables an account of learning from imaginary cases consistent with Jonathan Dancy’s moral particularism. Moreover, this account provides a more robust account of learning from cases than Dancy’s own. Particularism is the position that there are no, or at most few, true moral principles, and that competent reasoning and judgment do not require them. On a particularist framework, one cannot infer from an imaginary case that because a feature has a particular moral (...)
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  16. Why Moral Principles?Joe Mintoff - 2016 - Mind 125 (500):1133-1159.
    Jonathan Dancy challenges moral generalists to come up with a picture of moral thought and judgment which requires a provision of principles that cover the ground. The aim of this paper is to provide a response to Dancy's challenge. I argue that reasonable moral thought requires us to explain ourselves when we have reason to doubt our moral judgment about some particular case, that any such explanation commits us to a general moral principle over some domain of discussion and that (...)
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  17. Moral Particularism and Moral Generalism.Michael Ridge & Sean McKeever - 2016 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  18. Uklonljivost, norme in izjeme: model normalnosti.Vojko Strahovnik - 2016 - Revus 29:77-92.
    Članek se ukvarja s pojmom uklonljivosti, s posebnim ozirom na uklonljivost moralnih in pravnih norm. Na začetku začrtamo grob oris pojava uklonljivosti, ki je zahteven izziv tako za moralno kot tudi za pravno teorijo. Opozorimo na pogoje in primerjalne prednosti, ki naj bi jih izpolnjeval oz. imel model uklonljivosti. Nadalje se v članku osredotočimo na svojstven model uklonljivosti, ki uporablja pojem normalnih pogojev da bi zajel omenjeni pojem uklonljivosti norm. Trdimo, da temu modelu pri tem spodleti, posebej z vidika predpostavke (...)
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  19. Defeasibility, Norms and Exceptions: Normalcy Model.Vojko Strahovnik - 2016 - Revus 29 (29).
    The paper discusses the notion of defeasibility and focuses specifically on defeasible norms. First, it delineates a robust notion of the phenomenon of defeasibility, which poses a serious problem for both moral and legal theory. It does this by laying out the conditions and desiderata that a model of defeasibility should be able to meet. It further focuses on a specific model of defeasibility that utilises the notion of normal conditions to expound the robust notion of defeasibility. It argues that (...)
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  20. Uncovering Metaethical Assumptions in Bioethical Discourse Across Cultures.Laura Specker Sullivan - 2016 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 26 (1):47-78.
    Bioethics seeks to answer questions and resolve problems that change along with developments in medicine and biology. Ethical justification plays a crucial role in bioethical analysis by clarifying the reasons that support complex judgments about particular actions and general policies.1 It helps bioethicists to determine what to allow, forbid, support, and minimize. When there is disagreement, it can also aid understanding of competing positions. However, at times, disagreement on particular issues becomes so entrenched that understanding seems impossible. In such circumstances, (...)
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  21. Can the Canberrans’ Supervenience Argument Refute Shapeless Moral Particularism?Peter Tsu - 2016 - Erkenntnis 81 (3):545-560.
    Frank Jackson, Michael Smith, and Philip Pettit contend in their 2000 paper that an argument from supervenience deals a fatal blow to shapeless moral particularism, the view that the moral is shapeless with respect to the natural. A decade has passed since the Canberrans advanced their highly influential supervenience argument. Yet, there has not been any compelling counter-argument against it, as far as I can see. My aim in this paper is to fill in this void and defend SMP against (...)
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  22. A Humean Particularist Virtue Ethic.Erin Frykholm - 2015 - Philosophical Studies 172 (8):2171-2191.
    Virtue ethical theories typically follow a neo-Aristotelian or quasi-Aristotelian model, making use of various combinations of key features of the Aristotelian model including eudaimonism, perfectionism, an account of practical wisdom, and the thesis of the unity of the virtues. In this paper I motivate what I call a Humean virtue ethic, which is a deeply particularist account of virtue that rejects all of these central tenets, at least in their traditional forms. Focusing on three factors by which Hume determines virtue, (...)
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  23. La mente morale. Persone, ragioni, virtù.Matteo Galletti (ed.) - 2015 - Rome, Italy: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.
    In this book, the authors provide a detailed discussion of some problematic of some critical issues of the philosophical research field known as “moral psychology”. The common thread that ideally combines the eight essays concerns the definition and demarcation of the “moral mind”, as a set of cognitive and affective capabilities, attitudes, psychological mechanisms that have practical relevance when we wonder how to act or we evaluate the of action of others. The subtitle (persons, reasons, virtues) means to focus on (...)
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  24. The Value Added of Organized Information: From Floridi to Bennett.Claudio Gnoli - 2015 - Knowledge Organization: Making a Difference: Proceedings ISKO Biennial Conference, London, July 2015.
    Recently, Floridi has proposed that ethics be centered on the notion of information, which would represent a value in itself. As anything contains information in some form, this stance would imply that anything has intrinsic value. While this perspective is intriguing as it would make information science an even more important domain, it needs to be refined by distinguishing between different levels of organized information. Instances of matter, of life, of minds, of civil society, and of cultural heritage all are (...)
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  25. Directly Plausible Principles.Howard Nye - 2015 - In Christopher Daly (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Philosophical Methods. Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 610-636.
    In this chapter I defend a methodological view about how we should conduct substantive ethical inquiries in the fields of normative and practical ethics. I maintain that the direct plausibility and implausibility of general ethical principles – once fully clarified and understood – should be foundational in our substantive ethical reasoning. I argue that, in order to expose our ethical intuitions about particular cases to maximal critical scrutiny, we must determine whether they can be justified by directly plausible principles. To (...)
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  26. On Moral Sentimentalism.N. Roughley & T. Schramme (eds.) - 2015 - Cambridge Scholars Press.
  27. On Empathy as the Cement of the Moral Universe.Thomas Schramme - 2015 - In Neil Roughley & Thomas Schramme (eds.), On Moral Sentimentalism. Cambridge Scholars Press. pp. 42-49.
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  28. Necessary Moral Principles.Richard Swinburne - 2015 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 1 (4):617--634.
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  29. Mackie’s Error Theory: A Wittgensteinian Critique.Robert Vinten - 2015 - Revista Kínesis 7 (13):30-47.
    I start by arguing that Mackie’s claim that there are no objective values is a nonsensical one. I do this by ‘assembling reminders’ of the correct use of the term ‘values’ and by examining the grammar of moral propositions à la Wittgenstein. I also examine Hare’s thought experiment which is used to demonstrate “that no real issue can be built around the objectivity or otherwise of moral values” before briefly looking at Mackie’s ‘argument from queerness’. In the final section I (...)
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  30. Rules and Principles in Moral Decision Making: An Empirical Objection to Moral Particularism.Jennifer L. Zamzow - 2015 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18 (1):123-134.
    It is commonly thought that moral rules and principles, such as ‘Keep your promises,’ ‘Respect autonomy,’ and ‘Distribute goods according to need ,’ should play an essential role in our moral deliberation. Particularists have challenged this view by arguing that principled guidance leads us to engage in worse decision making because principled guidance is too rigid and it leads individuals to neglect or distort relevant details. However, when we examine empirical literature on the use of rules and principles in other (...)
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  31. Explaining Moral Knowledge.Uri D. Leibowitz - 2014 - 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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  32. Ross and the Particularism/Generalism Divide.Kristian Olsen - 2014 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 44 (1):56-75.
    W. D. Ross is commonly considered to be a generalist about prima facie duty but a particularist about absolute duty. That is, many philosophers hold that Ross accepts that there are true moral principles involving prima facie duty but denies that there are any true moral principles involving absolute duty. I agree with the former claim: Ross surely accepts prima facie moral principles. However, in this paper, I challenge the latter claim. Ross, I argue, is no more a particularist about (...)
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  33. Thinking About Reasons: Themes From the Philosophy of Jonathan Dancy.J. Olson - 2014 - Philosophical Quarterly 64 (257):672-675.
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  34. Moral Knowledge and Intuitions: Introduction to a Special Issue of the Journal of Value Inquiry.Sabine Roeser & Joel Rickard - 2014 - Journal of Value Inquiry 48 (2):173-176.
    After decades of being met with suspicion or even disdain the epistemic role of intuitions – and specifically the school of ethical intuitionism – has seen a revival. This revival has been undertaken by both leading moral philosophers such as Jonathan Dancy and Robert Audi and moral psychologists like Jonathan Haidt and Joshua Greene.See Jonathan Dancy, Ethics Without Principles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), Robert Audi, The Good in the Right. A Theory of Intuition and Intrinsic Value (Princeton: Princeton University (...)
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  35. Principle-Based Moral Judgement.Maike Albertzart - 2013 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (2):339-354.
    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 (...)
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  36. Moral Particularism: Ethical Not Metaphysical?David Bakhurst - 2013 - In David Bakhurst, Margaret Olivia Little & Brad Hooker (eds.), Thinking About Reasons: Themes From the Philosophy of Jonathan Dancy. Oxford University Press. pp. 192.
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  37. Thinking About Reasons: Themes From the Philosophy of Jonathan Dancy.David Bakhurst, Margaret Olivia Little & Brad Hooker (eds.) - 2013 - Oxford University Press.
    Thinking about Reasons collects fourteen new essays on ethics and the philosophy of action, inspired by the work of Jonathan Dancy—one of his generation's most influential moral philosophers.
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  38. Moral Case Classification and the Nonlocality of Reasons.Marcello Guarini - 2013 - Topoi 32 (2):267-289.
    This paper presents the results of training an artificial neural network (ANN) to classify moral situations. The ANN produces a similarity space in the process of solving its classification problem. The state space is subjected to analysis that suggests that holistic approaches to interpreting its functioning are problematic. The idea of a contributory or pro tanto standard, as discussed in debates between moral particularists and generalists, is used to understand the structure of the similarity space generated by the ANN. A (...)
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  39. Reasons, Holism And Virtue Theory.Andrew Jordan - 2013 - Philosophical Quarterly 63 (251):248-268.
    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 (...)
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  40. Particularism in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.Uri D. Leibowitz - 2013 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 10 (2):121-147.
    In this essay I offer a new particularist reading of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I argue that the interpretation I present not only helps us to resolve some puzzles about Aristotle’s goals and methods, but it also gives rise to a novel account of morality—an account that is both interesting and plausible in its own right. The goal of this paper is, in part, exegetical—that is, to figure out how to best understand the text of the Nicomachean Ethics. But this paper (...)
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  41. Generics, Generalism, and Reflective Equilibrium: Implications for Moral Theorizing From the Study of Language.Adam Lerner & Sarah-Jane Leslie - 2013 - Philosophical Perspectives 27 (1):366-403.
  42. Particularism.David McNaughton & Piers Rawling - 2013 - In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Wiley-Blackwell.
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  43. Narrative and Justification in Moral Particularism.Daniel Nica - 2013 - Romanian Journal of Analytic Philosophy (2):22-32.
    In this paper I will discuss the problem of justification in moral particularism. The first part is concerned with Jonathan Dancy’s account of justification, which is a narrative one. To justify one’s choice is to present a persuasive description of the context in a narrative fashion, not to subordinate singular cases to universal rules. Since it dismisses arguments and employs persuasiveness, this view seems irrational, so the second part of my paper will consist of a personal reconstruction and reformulation of (...)
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  44. A Quietist Particularism.A. W. Price - 2013 - In David Bakhurst, Margaret Olivia Little & Brad Hooker (eds.), Thinking About Reasons: Themes From the Philosophy of Jonathan Dancy. Oxford University Press. pp. 218.
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  45. Nature and the Best Life. Exploring the Natural Bases of Practical Normativity in Ancient Philosophy.Gabriela Rossi (ed.) - 2013 - Hildesheim - Zurich - New York: G. Olms.
    The papers included in this book explore various aspects of the relation between nature and practical normativity in Antiquity, from the Presocratic period to Neoplatonism. Leaving aside the question how much of contemporary naturalism is present in Ancient Philosophy, and whether that much is sufficient for finding traces of it in ancient naturalism, one may still ask the historical question of whether or not this is a feature that all ancient ethics share. To this effect, the following pages offer a (...)
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  46. Shapelessness and Predication Supervenience: A Limited Defense of Shapeless Moral Particularism.Peter Shiu-Hwa Tsu - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 166 (S1):51-67.
    Moral particularism, on some interpretations, is committed to a shapeless thesis: the moral is shapeless with respect to the natural. (Call this version of moral particularism ‘shapeless moral particularism’). In more detail, the shapeless thesis is that the actions a moral concept or predicate can be correctly applied to have no natural commonality (or shape) amongst them. Jackson et al. (Ethical particularism and patterns, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000) argue, however, that the shapeless thesis violates the platitude ‘predication supervenes on (...)
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  47. Moral Particularism.Peter Shiu-Hwa Tsu - 2013 - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  48. True Exceptions : Defeasibility and Particularism.Bruno Celano - 2012 - In Jordi Ferrer Beltrán & Giovanni Battista Ratti (eds.), The Logic of Legal Requirements: Essays on Defeasibility. Oxford University Press. pp. 268--287.
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  49. Theory Vs Anti-Theory.Brad Hooker - 2012 - In Ulrika Heuer Gerald Lang (ed.), Luck, Value, and Commitment: Themes from the Moral Philosophy of Bernard Williams. Oxford University Press.
    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 (...)
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  50. How Insensitive: Principles, Facts and Normative Grounds in Cohen’s Critique of Rawls.Daniel Kofman - 2012 - Socialist Studies 8 (1):246-268.
    Cohen’s hostility to Rawls’ justification of the Difference Principle by social facts spawned Cohen’s general thesis that ultimate principles of justice and morality are fact-insensitive, but explain how any fact-sensitive principle is grounded in facts. The problem with this thesis, however, is that when facts F ground principle P, reformulating this relation as the "fact-insensitive" conditional “If F, then P” is trivial and thus explanatorily impotent. Explanatory, hence justificatory, force derives either from subsumption under more general principles, or precisely exhibiting (...)
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