Particularism Doesn’t Flatten

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
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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 direct moral relevance. The failure of this objection shows that the objection exploits side-constraints that need not be placed on moral particularism.

  • Crisp Roger, ‘Ethics Without Reasons?’ Journal of Moral Philosophy, 4.1 (2007), pp. 4049.

  • Dancy Jonathan, ‘Defending the Right’, Journal of Moral Philosophy, 4.1 (2007), pp. 8598.

  • ——, Ethics Without Principles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

  • ——, ‘Moral Particularism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/moral-particularism/>.

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  • ——, Moral Reasons (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993).

  • Lance Mark, and Little Margaret, ‘Defeasibility and the Normative Grasp of Context’, Erkenntnis 61 (2004), pp. 43555.

  • Little Margaret, , ‘Moral Generalities Revisited’, in Hooker B., and Little M. (eds.), Moral Particularism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 276304.

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  • McKeever Sean, and Ridge Michael, Principled Ethics: Generalism as a Regulative Ideal (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006).

  • ——, ‘Turning on Default Reasons’, Journal of Moral Philosophy, 4.1 (2007), pp. 5576.

  • Thomas Alan, ‘Practical Reasoning and Normative Relevance: A Reply to McKeever and Ridge’, Journal of Moral Philosophy, 4.1 (2007), pp. 7784.

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  • 1

    Sean McKeever and Michael Ridge, Principled Ethics: Generalism as a Regulative Ideal (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006), p. 47.

  • 3

    Jonathan Dancy, Ethics Without Principles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

  • 6

    Mark Lance and Margaret Little, ‘Defeasibility and the Normative Grasp of Context’, Erkenntnis 61 (2004), pp. 435–55.

  • 7

    Alan Thomas, ‘Practical Reasoning and Normative Relevance: A Reply to McKeever and Ridge’, Journal of Moral Philosophy, 4.1 (2007), p. 77 and p. 84, respectively.

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  • 11

     See Dancy, Ethics Without Principles, p. 76, for a description of what I’ve called a contributory moral principle.

  • 13

     See Dancy, Ethics Without Principles, p. 73, for his version of the holism thesis.

  • 15

    Little, ‘Moral Generalities Revisited’, p. 278.

  • 16

    Little, ‘Moral Generalities Revisited’, p. 279.

  • 17

    Jonathan Dancy, ‘Moral Particularism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/moral-particularism/>. Dancy’s ‘overall’ principles are the same as my ‘general’ principles.

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  • 18

    Dancy, Ethics Without Principles, p. 80.

  • 19

    McKeever and Ridge, Principled Ethics, p. 46.

  • 21

    Little, ‘Moral Generalities Revisited’, p. 291; quoted in McKeever and Ridge, Principled Ethics, p. 46.

  • 22

    Jonathan Dancy, Moral Reasons (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), p. 67; quoted in McKeever and Ridge, Principled Ethics, pp. 46–7.

  • 23

    McKeever and Ridge, Principled Ethics, p. 46.

  • 24

    McKeever and Ridge, Principled Ethics, p. 46.

  • 25

    McKeever and Ridge, Principled Ethics, p. 46.

  • 26

    McKeever and Ridge, Principled Ethics, p. 47.

  • 29

     See McKeever and Ridge, Principled Ethics, pp. 41–43 for their discussion of the role that ‘uncodifiability’ plays in particularist views. I disagree with their assessment since I think it can be shown that arguments from ‘radical holism’ are not, in fact, question-begging.

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  • 33

    Little, ‘Moral Generalities Revisited’, p. 295.

  • 34

     See, for instance, Dancy, Ethics Without Principles, pp. 8–9, 80. Note that Dancy doesn’t think that the fact that good moral reasoning is non-monotonic entails particularism. This is because non-monotonicity is compatible with atomism about moral valences.

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  • 35

    Dancy, Ethics Without Principles, 8.

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