Saturday, April 03, 2010

A Jotting on Moral Particularism

Chance asked my opinion on moral particularism. I haven't thought at great length about it, but judging from what little I've ready by Dancy about it, I would say that it's right in its positive proposal and wrong in its criticisms of generalists. Much of morality is particularist; there is such a thing as moral taste, and more broadly yet there is such a thing as prudence. A morality that doesn't take this into account is incomplete and inadequate. But particularism as such is the view that there are no defensible exceptionless moral principles, which is absurd; obviously there are, e.g., 'Try to do what is good and avoid what is bad'. And particularist criticisms of moral principles almost universally make the error of assuming that the only options are to have only moral principles or no moral principles; these, however, are contraries rather than contradictories.

We live in a curious period of philosophy; namely, we live in the Era of a Hundred Myriad Schools. This sharply affects our moral discourse, because moral philosophy, like much else in philosophy, is massively fragmented. (I think the same is true of moral theology.) This almost guarantees that typical positions in moral philosophy, like particularist and standard 'generalist' positions, will be incomplete. The only real way forward is through a major synthesis; such things have happened before, but not, as far as I am aware, under such fragmented conditions. In the meantime we need to be skeptical of any position that does not recognize the diversity and richness of moral life and moral reasoning.

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