Moral Particularism

Sometimes people recommend Moral Particularism as being similar to my ideas on Popperian morality.

This is a condensed summary of my notes on Particularism, based on this entry from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

⏬ Particularism in its full/pure state (what Dancy called “trenchant”) — that there are no moral principles — fails when applied to itself: it is itself a principle.

🐶 Reductio ad canem:
Particularism says that being morally right in any particular case doesn’t have anything in common with the other cases.

Applied to dogs, Particularism would say: There is such a thing as dogs. Poor misguided people think there’s a common factor that makes something a dog. But dogs are dogs for individual reasons — not some common factor they share. Dogs have nothing in common. And yet you can recognise a dog (theoretically all dogs) by being doggedly sensitive.

📜 Particularism has various misconceptions about what a ‘principle’ is.

Whether a feature is relevant or not in a new case, and if so what exact role it is playing there … will be sensitive to other features of the case. … what is a reason in one case may be no reason at all in another

This, as an argument against principles, is silly. Most moral systems agree with this idea of situation-dependence.

Laws of physics might say a ballast is a functioning feature for a ship but not a plane — but it’s still the same underlying principles.

📜 Particularism never answers “in what way does it depend on the situation?“. (Because any answer would then be a principle…)

🔴 Dancy doesn’t recognise the concept of ‘red’ is a general theory (i.e. a principle).

🖥 Particularism may partly be due to a misunderstanding that’s common among non-programmers. Namely: ‘if there’s a principle, it should give the same answers in all cases’.

But the whole point of principles is that they give you different answers for different situations.

If you want to write a program that does different things in different situations, the only way to do that is to have a function (i.e. a principle) which takes the description of the situation as the input. You cannot write a different function for every situation, because then you’d need a function to determine what function to use (which would then be used in every situation).

⏬ “Particularists take their holism to be a reason to reject any invariance of reasons, of either sort—whether at the overall or at the contributory level.”

…Except Particularism itself, that’s totes invariant.

⏬ “holism” = There are so many factors affecting the morality of situations that no two situations are ever alike, and therefore no generalisations about them are ever true. Except that one.

🌌 Particularism claims it’s how to think about objective morality. But general theories (‘principles’) are a prerequisite of objective morality that’s knowable (including fallibly knowable).

If ‘dog’ refers to some objective property, there must be some general meaning/attribute that’s shared among all dogs and not things that aren’t dogs.