Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 1091–1103 | Cite as

Reason Holism, Individuation, and Embeddedness

  • Peter Shiu-Hwa TsuEmail author


The goal of this paper is to promote what I call ‘the embedded thesis’ as a general constraint on how moral reasons behave. Dancy’s reason holism will be used as a foil to illustrate the thesis. According to Dancy’s reason holism, moral reasons behave in a holistic way; that is, a feature that is a moral reason in one context might not be so in another or might even be an opposite reason. The way a feature manages to switch its reason status is by the help of a so-called enabler/disabler. The enabler in itself is not part of the reason, according to Dancy’s reason holism, for it can be either present or absent while the reason feature is present. To put the idea somewhat differently, Dancy’s reason holism presupposes what I call ‘reason individuation’, the view that features that function as reasons can be individuated from those that function as enablers. Yet, reason individuation cannot hold, or so I will argue, due to what I call ‘the embedded thesis’. According to the embedded thesis, the feature that serves as a moral reason in a context cannot be individuated independently from its embedded context (and thus from its enablers) while still retaining its reason status. If I am right about the embedded thesis, this will take the wind out of the sails of Dancy’s reason holism. More importantly, it will constitute, I argue, a general constraint on how moral reasons behave.


Reason holism Individuation Embeddedness Particularism Jonathan Dancy 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyChung Cheng UniversityChia-Yi CountyTaiwan

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