[Paleopsych] Routledge: Roger Crisp: Moral Particularism

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Roger Crisp: Moral Particularism The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

     Moral particularism is a broad set of views which play down the role
        of general moral principles in moral philosophy and practice.
     Particularists stress the role of examples in moral education and of
      moral sensitivity or judgment in moral decision-making, as well as
        criticizing moral theories which advocate or rest upon general
       principles. It has not yet been demonstrated that particularism
    constitutes an importantly controversial position in moral philosophy.

      Moral particularism is the view that general moral principles play
     less of a role in moral thought than has often been claimed. In its
      most extreme form, particularism states that there are no genuine
    moral principles, and that therefore moral agents who attempt to guide
     their action by reference to moral principles, and philosophers who
    attempt to construct moral theories based on principles, are seriously
              mistaken (see Moral realism §5; Situation ethics).

     Many particularists are influenced by the view of Wittgenstein that
    one acquires a concept not by being taught some universal rule for its
    application, but through introduction into a human practice and a way
     of seeing things (see Wittgensteinian ethics §3). The particularist
      view of moral education will stress the importance of examples and
     actual experience of individual moral cases rather than the learning
    of universal moral rules under which particular cases can be subsumed
               (see Examples in ethics §2; Moral education §3).

       A link is often drawn between moral particularism and so-called
     'antitheory' in ethics. Antitheorists suggest that ethical theorists
    are in error in postulating principles according to which actions are
      right to the extent that they are in accord with these principles.
    Utilitarianism, for example, claims that acts are right to the extent
      that they maximize utility (see Utilitarianism). A further link is
      often alleged between particularism, anti-theory and virtue ethics
      (see Virtue ethics). But this link may rest on a confusion between
    particularism about moral theory and particularism about moral agency.
    Virtue ethics has its own principle: right actions are those that the
       virtuous person would do. The virtuous person will indeed not in
    practice proceed by attempting to apply this principle directly. Here,
    however, virtue ethics and utilitarianism are in agreement, since most
      utilitarians have claimed that moral agents should not attempt to
                      apply utilitarianism in practice.

     Moral particularism can also emerge out of the theory of reasons for
     action. On the view of Dancy (1993), reasons are not universalizable
    across cases, so that what counts as a reason in one case need not be
     assumed to function as a reason in the same way in other cases (see
       Logic of ethical discourse §7). My enjoying giving you a present
     counts in favour of my action; but my enjoying torturing you counts
         against. Against this, it can be suggested that reasons are
    universalizable at a higher level (innocent pleasure, perhaps, always
      counts as a reason), and that to deny this is to embrace a form of

      According to less extreme particularists, principles can play some
      role in theory and in practice (see Casuistry). On one view, they
       serve as useful generalizations, but there is always a need for
       judgment in particular cases (see Moral judgment §2; Theory and
      practice §2). Aristotle is best seen as such a particularist. Once
      again, it is not clear that, for example, utilitarians or Kantians
       would wish to deny such a role for judgment (see Kantian ethics;
                         Universalism in ethics §3).

                       See also: Aesthetics and ethics

                        References and further reading

      Aristotle (c. mid 4th century BC) Nicomachean Ethics, trans. with
    notes by T. Irwin, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1985,
                                   book 6.

      NOTE: (Contains an account of moral judgment or 'practical

      Dancy, J. (1993) Moral Reasons, Oxford: Blackwell. (Central outline
               and defence of modern particularism. Difficult.)

          McDowell, J. (1979) 'Virtue and reason', Monist 62: 331-50.
       (Defence of a form of particularist virtue ethics involving both
                    Aristotle and Wittgenstein. Difficult.)

      Ross, W.D. (1930) The Right and the Good, Oxford: Clarendon Press,
         chaps 1-2. (Has been influential on the development of modern

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