3

Suppose that I think injustice (whatever it happens to be and how we recognise it) should never exist: does that completely defeat the tenor of particularism?

Suppose that I think the right course of action always should ideally (there's something wrong somewhere if it doesn't) promote the well being of the agent and some right holder: is this completely generalist?

What if I thought that a society should always allow for at least a certain amount of freedom and sustenance for all of its members: is that particularist at all?

And what if I thought some virtues were always praiseworthy: is there room for that without principles?

8
  • 1
    "Injustice should never exist" and the like, with a proviso like "whatever it happens to be and how we recognize it", is the kind of (vacuous) 'generality' that particularists may well endorse. Their point is that general principles, especially absolute ones, tend to guide actions wrongly because they are not fine-tuned to diverse contexts. But to do that they need to actually guide, which vague aspirational platitudes do not. If "we recognize it" through some context-sensitive moral intuition, for example, then this 'general principle' is exactly the sort of thing particularists urge.
    – Conifold
    Aug 4, 2023 at 10:39
  • 1
    Am I dreaming or am I in 1623 England? I know for a fact that Frodo Baggins, the unluckiest Hobbit in the Shire, does not exist.
    – Hudjefa
    Aug 4, 2023 at 14:27
  • 1
    Haha ... working on a timeline ... apologies if you didn't get the bang for yer buck!
    – Hudjefa
    Aug 4, 2023 at 14:44
  • 1
    hahah we shall see 20 noontide hours left @AgentSmith :D
    – user67104
    Aug 4, 2023 at 14:50
  • 1
    Moral particularists do not oppose 'generality in general', or they'd get into self-refuting waters and not be able to assert anything coherently. They specifically oppose general guiding principles like "never lie", "never steal", "always help the needy", etc. Aspirational, like yours, or meta-ethical generalities, like ought implies can or universalization or no absolutes, are not of this sort. Platitudes are vague heuristics for developing agreeable ethics, not guides to actual behavior. Particularists insist on context-sensitive implementation of the former when the latter are developed.
    – Conifold
    Aug 4, 2023 at 21:00

4 Answers 4

2

When reading your question I recalled one thing from my own experience. When I was a kid, my friends and I would often play a game of soccer in the neighborhood park. We didn't have any hard and fast rules, just a few general ones like "no hands" and "no pushing." But every game was different - the number of players, the size of the field, even the shape of our makeshift goalposts. We had to make decisions based on each unique situation.

One day, a new kid joined us. He was used to playing in a soccer league with strict rules. He kept pointing out our 'violations' and insisted we needed more rules. But we explained that our rules worked just fine because they allowed for flexibility. They gave us the freedom to adapt to each game's unique challenges. He struggled with this but after a few games, he began to appreciate our flexible approach.

So why I was telling this..

This memory reminds me of Jonathan Dancy's arguments about moral particularism. Like our neighborhood soccer games, Dancy believes moral judgments should be flexible and adaptable to each unique situation. He argues against relying too heavily on strict moral principles, much like our new friend initially struggled with the lack of strict rules in our soccer games.

Dancy would say that strict rules or principles can't cover every possible situation in life, just like a set of strict soccer rules couldn't accommodate the unique challenges of each of our neighborhood games. Instead, we should evaluate each situation on its own merits, using our judgment to decide the best course of action.

4
  • 1
    that is very long winded but pretty vacuous/uninteresting, and not tailored to the question
    – user67104
    Aug 4, 2023 at 12:17
  • 1
    Uninteresting? Well, sorry to hear that, I am not Ray Bradbury. What's your take on this?
    – user66933
    Aug 4, 2023 at 12:31
  • i wouldn't have asked the question if i had a take on it
    – user67104
    Aug 4, 2023 at 12:35
  • 1
    I doubt you have zero thoughts yourself on this matter.
    – user66933
    Aug 4, 2023 at 12:42
1

For whatever reason, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has two overlapping articles about moral particularism, one by its title focused on the thesis and the other contrasting the thesis with moral generalism. Sec. 3 of the former at one point reads:

The picture so far is that actions get to be right or wrong in a wide variety of ways. Particularists are ‘pluralists’, believing that there is more than one morally relevant property. Many properties (or features) are capable of making a difference to how one ought to act, and are therefore capable of being morally relevant. But a property can be relevant on one occasion and not on another, and can count in favour of action here and against action there. Isn’t this all terribly confusing? If it is all as much of a mess as this, how are we capable of keeping track of it? Are we reduced to looking at the case before us and hoping that the complex interrelations between the various features that happen to be relevant here will just strike us, somehow? Is there no such thing as general moral knowledge that one can extract from experience and bring to bear on a new case? Particularists need not deny this possibility. The question will be what form such general moral knowledge will take if it is not knowledge of the sort of invariabilities that particularism sets its face against, and that principles try to capture. I suggest that what the experienced moral judge knows is a range of ways in which a feature can contribute to determining how to act. There need be no hard core to this set of ‘sorts of contribution’, no common element, no limited set of paradigm cases.

Offhand, one might distinguish possibilist from actualist (or even necessitarian) generalism: the ◊-generalist takes, "X justified Y in case C," to show that it is generally possible for X's to justify Y's, but this would not mean that appealing to this possibility will be at all conclusive (or even informative) in all other C's. So thus far, there isn't too much difference between particularists and ◊-generalists. But now one should be able to think over, "What about ◊-particularism?" and the like, and one will find that if moral questions exist in different "dimensions," then perhaps some esoteric questions (whose practical manifestation is in acts of thought, not in external/social behavior) have actualist-generalist solutions, while most (or perhaps all) exoteric issues must be dealt with by actualist-particularism, etc.:

  1. ◊-generalism: X is always a possible justifier of Y (if some X ever justifies some Y): the types of X and Y are mediated.
  2. A-generalism: X is always an absolute or contributory actual justifier of Y.
  3. ◊-particularism: this individual X possibly justifies that individual Y (perhaps recognizable before engaging in the pertinent Y-action).
  4. A-particularism: this individual X does (or will) justify that Y (sometimes judgments like this are made ex post facto).
0

according to moral particularism, principles need not be in themselves metaphysically or rationally dubious... [but] whatever moral principles exist, they ‘are learnt in and from particular cases’ (Dancy, 1985a, p.151),

So yes, principles like "injustice should never exist" may be rational.

2
  • That's because it's a tautology. You can't justify injustice. Just because something is true doesn't make it relevant. Just because something is true in every case doesn't mean I can't carefully consider it in each case. Aug 4, 2023 at 20:28
  • i'm not sure it's a tautology @candied_orange should unhappiness never exist? a lot of people might disagree, both religious and atheist. it may well be the most trivial principle there is.
    – user67155
    Aug 6, 2023 at 2:12
0

Let's take the murder of Mussolini, as an exmaple

On 25 April he fled Milan, where he had been based, and headed towards the Swiss border. He and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were captured on 27 April by local partisans near the village of Dongo on Lake Como. Mussolini and Petacci were executed the following afternoon... The bodies of Mussolini and Petacci were taken to Milan and left... hung upside down from a metal girder above a service station on the square.

Some people would call this an injustice: it might have been a summary execution with no trial (Lazzaro, one of the partisan leaders, decried this and called it barbarous for this fact). But it may be more moot if that injustice was "wrong making" (which is a different claim to whether or not the execution was justified due to the situation).

So I don't think 'injustice is always wrong' is vacuous: it is not vacuous and trivial that, if Mussolini did suffer an injustice, then the injustice of it was wrong (though, if you think injustice is always wrong, then you may not believe both).


Anyway, more generally, it seems that particularists do think there are principles, just that they are unnecessary.

1
  • i'm explaining myself really badly ha
    – user67155
    Aug 6, 2023 at 3:26

You must log in to answer this question.