Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 151–167

Another Particularism: Reasons, Status and Defaults



This paper makes the non-monotonicity of a wide range of moral reasoning the basis of a case for particularism. Non-monotonicity threatens practical decision with an overwhelming informational complexity to which a form of ethical generalism seems the best response. It is argued that this impression is wholly misleading: the fact of non-monotonicity is best accommodated by the defence of four related theses in any theory of justification. First, the explanation of and defence of a default/challenge model of justification. Secondly, the development of a theory of epistemic status and an explanation of those unearned entitlements that accrue to such status. Thirdly, an explanation of the basis of epistemic virtues. Finally, an account must be given of the executive capacity of rational decision itself as a ‘contentless ability’. This overall set of views can accommodate a limited role for generalizations about categories of evidence, but not such as to rescue a principled generalism. In particular, the version of particularism defended here explains why one ought not to accept the principled “holism” that has proved to be a problem for Dancy’s form of particularism. Ethics certainly involves hedged principles. However, principles cannot be self-hedging: there cannot be a “that’s it” operator in a principle as Richard Holton has claimed that there can be. Practical reasoning is concluded by the categorical detachment of the action-as-conclusion itself.


Moral particularism Moral reasons Non-monotonic reasoning 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyTilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands

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