A moral particularist’s friends

A moral particularist thinks we can get on well enough, in a moral sense, without a ready supply of principles. What is right to do in one context may not be right to do in some other, but what is right to do in this context is determined by what is revealed in this context. Furthermore, a moral particularist thinks that practical reasoning is best–but (here is the rub) also only–demonstrated in context. And he believes that perception is the mode that picks out the salient features of the situation and that it is good judgment which allows one either to determine what is the most salient feature in the light of which one acts or what features overall speak in favor of one acting in such and such a way.

For the moral particularist, there are salient features of the situation which are fitted to an overall specification of the human good. The human good, which is partially constituted by practical reasoning, may be too vague (what would it mean, here and now, to act ‘toward the end of’ human flourishing?) unless the agent did not also perceive the salient features that, in this situation as it is but not necessarily in some other situation, place ‘demands’ upon him to act in the right way.

The moral particularist has no time for principles, but he is not, for all that, a moral relativist. He thinks that there are right answers to how lives if one is to live best, and there are right answers regarding how to respond to the demands placed upon him in this situation. I bet he would be very happy in the company of those who spoke intelligently of discernment, attention, perception, judgment, and practical wisdom; I bet he would be happy not least because he would doubtless learn from them how he could be better exercise this mode of insight. I also bet he would sniff out deontologists and utilitarians as being fearful of making an error and as looking–still after all these years–for a substitute for God.

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