Moral holism, moral generalism, and moral dispositionalism

Mind 115 (458):331-360 (2006)
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Moral principles play important roles in diverse areas of moral thought, practice, and theory. Many who think of themselves as ‘moral generalists’ believe that moral principles can play these roles—that they are capable of doing so. Moral generalism maintains that moral principles can and do play these roles because true moral principles are statements of general moral fact (i.e. statements of facts about the moral attributes of kinds of actions, kinds of states of affairs, etc.) and because general moral facts explain particular moral facts (i.e. facts about the moral attributes of particulars). Moral holism maintains that what is a moral reason to φ in one case may not be one in another, and may even be a moral reason not to φ given suitable circumstances. Some ‘moral particularists’ maintain that moral holism motivates scepticism about the existence of and need for moral principles, along with scepticism about the viability of principle-based approaches to ethics and moral theory. But I argue that moral holism is itself a form of moral generalism, one that takes facts about the right- and wrong-making powers of (generic) moral factors to explain certain particular moral facts—namely, the rightness and wrongness of particular actions. I also argue that a moral-theoretic version of dispositionalism—the view that dispositions, powers, or capacities are the fundamental units of explanation—explains both why moral holism is true and why moral generalism is true.



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Luke Robinson
Southern Methodist University

Citations of this work

Deflationary normative pluralism.Evan Tiffany - 2007 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 37 (5):pp. 231-262.
Moral Particularism and Moral Generalism.Michael Ridge & Sean McKeever - 2016 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
A Defense of a Particularist Research Program.Uri D. Leibowitz - 2009 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12 (2):181-199.

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Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy.Bernard Williams - 1986 - Cambridge, Mass.: Routledge.

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