Other Particulars

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Substance theory, or substance–attribute theory, is an ontological theory positing that objects are constituted each by a substance and properties borne by the substance but distinct from it. In this role, a substance can be referred to as a substratum or a thing-in-itself. Substances are particulars that are ontologically independent: they are able to exist all by themselves.

  1. The Particulars of Peter is a funny exploration of the joy found in loving a dog so much it makes you feel like you're going to combust, and the author's potentially codependent relationship with her own sweet dog, Peter. Readers will follow Peter and his owner to Woofstock, 'the largest outdoor festival for dogs in North America,'.
  2. Any other training entitlement (can be provided within 2 months). Disciplinary and grievance procedures (can be provided within 2 months). Any other paid leave. Where there are no particulars to be entered under any of these headings, that fact should be stated, and all the above information should be given to the employee or worker.

Transitional Words and Phrases
Updated lists by Joanna Taraba
(printable version here)

This page only provides a list of transitional words; be certain you understand their meanings before you use them. Often, there exists a slight, but significant, difference between two apparently similar words. Also remember that while transitions describe relationships between ideas, they do not automatically create relationships between ideas for your reader. Use transitions with enough context in a sentence or paragraph to make the relationships clear.

Example of unclear transition:

The characters in Book A face a moral dilemma. In the same way, the characters in Book B face a similar problem.


Improved transition:

The characters in Book A face a moral dilemma, a contested inheritance. Although the inheritance in Book B consists of an old house and not a pile of money, the nature of the problem is quite similar.


Examples of Transitions:


Thus, for example, for instance, namely, to illustrate, in other words, in particular, specifically, such as.


On the contrary, contrarily, notwithstanding, but, however, nevertheless, in spite of, in contrast, yet, on one hand, on the other hand, rather, or, nor, conversely, at the same time, while this may be true.


And, in addition to, furthermore, moreover, besides, than, too, also, both-and, another, equally important, first, second, etc., again, further, last, finally, not only-but also, as well as, in the second place, next, likewise, similarly, in fact, as a result, consequently, in the same way, for example, for instance, however, thus, therefore, otherwise.


After, afterward, before, then, once, next, last, at last, at length, first, second, etc., at first, formerly, rarely, usually, another, finally, soon, meanwhile, at the same time, for a minute, hour, day, etc., during the morning, day, week, etc., most important, later, ordinarily, to begin with, afterwards, generally, in order to, subsequently, previously, in the meantime, immediately, eventually, concurrently, simultaneously.


At the left, at the right, in the center, on the side, along the edge, on top, below, beneath, under, around, above, over, straight ahead, at the top, at the bottom, surrounding, opposite, at the rear, at the front, in front of, beside, behind, next to, nearby, in the distance, beyond, in the forefront, in the foreground, within sight, out of sight, across, under, nearer, adjacent, in the background.


Although, at any rate, at least, still, thought, even though, granted that, while it may be true, in spite of, of course.

Similarity or Comparison

Similarly, likewise, in like fashion, in like manner, analogous to.


Above all, indeed, truly, of course, certainly, surely, in fact, really, in truth, again, besides, also, furthermore, in addition.


Specifically, especially, in particular, to explain, to list, to enumerate, in detail, namely, including.


For example, for instance, to illustrate, thus, in other words, as an illustration, in particular.

Consequence or Result

So that, with the result that, thus, consequently, hence, accordingly, for this reason, therefore, so, because, since, due to, as a result, in other words, then.


Therefore, finally, consequently, thus, in short, in conclusion, in brief, as a result, accordingly.


For this purpose, to this end, with this in mind, with this purpose in mind, therefore.

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First published Wed Jun 6, 2001; substantive revision Fri Sep 22, 2017

Moral Particularism, at its most trenchant, is the claim that thereare no defensible moral principles, that moral thought does not consistin the application of moral principles to cases, and that the morallyperfect person should not be conceived as the person of principle.There are more cautious versions, however. The strongest defensibleversion, perhaps, holds that though there may be some moral principles,still the rationality of moral thought and judgement in no way dependson a suitable provision of such things; and the perfectly moral judgewould need far more than a grasp on an appropriate range of principlesand the ability to apply them. Moral principles are at best crutchesthat a morally sensitive person would not require, and indeed the useof such crutches might even lead us into moral error.

The particularist’s opponent is the generalist. Ethical generalismis the view that the rationality of moral thought and judgement dependson a suitable provision of moral principles.

This entry provides a high-level introduction. For a more detailedpresentation, see the entry on the debate between moral particularism and moral generalism.

1. Two Conceptions of Moral Principles

If we are going to debate the question whether there is a need formoral principles, we need some idea of what we mean by a ‘moralprinciple’. Unfortunately there are two radically differentconceptions of what moral principles are. The first conception, the‘absolute’ conception, takes a moral principle to be auniversal claim to the effect that all actions of a certain type areoverall wrong (or right). The principle ‘don’t break yourpromises’can be expressed in various ways: ‘it is wrong tobreak one’s promises’; ‘all actions that involve breaking apromise are wrong’—and so on. On the absolute conception,these all mean that each and every action of breaking a promise is awrong action, whatever else there may be to be said for it. Each suchaction is wrong overall, despite any redeeming features it mayhave.

There is a very different way of understanding a moral principle, as‘contributory’ rather than as absolute. Understood in thissecond way, our principle maintains that if an action involvesbreaking a promise, that counts against it. The action is the worsefor being a promise-breaking. Of course it may be the worse for beinga promise-breaking but the better for some other feature that ithas—that of being kindly meant, say. The contributory conceptionof moral principles allows that more than one principle can apply tothe case before us, since it holds that each principle is, as it were,partial; each specifies how things are only in a certain respect. Butactions have many relevant features, some counting in favour andothers against. Whether the action is overall right or wrong can onlybe determined by the overall balance of right and wrong in it. Thecontributory principles do not themselves tell us how to determinethat balance. They only specify contributions one by one, and leave usto work out how these add up. Some people suppose that the principlescan themselves be ranked in order of importance; if that were right,it would be of some help to us in working out what matters most in agiven case. Others suppose that there is no available lexical orderingof such a sort, and that the matter is left to unaided‘judgement’.

Since there are these two quite different conceptions of what amoral principle says, our discussion will need to address bothpossibilities. If particularism is true, there is not much room formoral principles of either sort.

2. What the Particularist Does Not Believe

It is standard, at least in cultures informed by the Christiantradition, to think of the moral person as the person of principle.This person is the person who has learnt, or developed for herself, asufficient range of sound moral principles (of either type), and whohas sufficient skill at applying these principles to cases as theycrop up. There is no need to underestimate the sort of skill thatwould be required for this; the matter is certainly far frommechanical. One needs judgement both to discern whether a principleapplies at all and, if it does, what exactly it requires ofone. Nonetheless, however difficult it may be, moral judgement isconceived here as the application of principles to cases.

If moral judgement is a rational enterprise, it must be subject toconstraints of consistency. What is demanded of us when we arerequired to be consistent in our moral judgements? The answer is thatwe are required to apply our principles consistently, that is, toapply the same principle to similar cases. It is inconsistent to applythe principle ‘don’t lie’ to cases involving one’s friendsand not to those that involve strangers. If you want to behave in thatsort of way, your principle is going to have to be ‘don’t lie toyour friends’. What this tells us, of course, is that consistency isnot the only requirement. Our moral principles are supposed to beimpartial, and it is not obvious that the principle ‘don’t lieto your friends’meets this condition. But at leastsomeone who takes it as his principle can tell the truth to hisfriends and lie to strangers without inconsistency.

Why do we think of the moral person as the person of principle, andwhy do we think of moral judgement as subject to this sort ofconsistency constraint? (As we will see later, there are other formsthat the consistency constraint could have taken.) The answer, Ithink, is that we suppose that without moral principles there could beno such thing as the difference between right and wrong. Rightness andwrongness are peculiar properties, and the only way that an action canget them is by being related to a principle in one way or another. Sounless there are principles saying which sorts of actions are rightand which wrong, none would be right and none wrong. If this were so,it would hardly be surprising that the good moral judge would be theperson capable of following in her mind the way in which actions getto be right or wrong, which requires knowing the relevant principlesand seeing that they have this effect here and that effect there. Andit would be hardly surprising that consistency in judgement wouldamount to no more than applying similar principles to similarcases.

A rather different argument appeals not so much to a metaphysical needfor principles as to an epistemological need. If there is adistinction between right and wrong actions, how are we to detect it?There must be a detectable difference between the properties of theright ones and the properties of the wrong ones. Now if an action iswrong, it is wrong because of certain other features it has—thenon-moral features that make it wrong. Those non-moral features willbe detectable in the ordinary way, whatever that is. Good moraljudges, having detected them, can somehow work out whether they makethe action right or wrong. But if this ability is not a matter ofmagic, it must rest on an at least implicit knowledge of regularitiesconnecting the non-moral features of actions and their moralproperties. Moral principles specify such regularities. So if moraljudgement is to be even possible, there must be a set of principlesconnecting moral properties to non-moral properties, contrary to whatthe particularist claims.

If this is our picture of the individual trying to decide what sheought to do, how are we likely to conceive of the way to resolvedisagreements between two individuals? Of course there are the factsof the matter to be sorted out between them. Then presumably they haveto try to agree at least on which principles are to be taken asrelevant (that is, to agree on the principles, and to agree that theyare the relevant ones in the present case). Finally, they have toagree on the course of action that those principles recommend in thesituation that faces them. This would be, as we might put it, a fullresolution of any initial disagreement. Otherwise we are looking for acompromise of one form or another. It is possible, for instance, for adisagreement on the principles not to make any practical difference asthings turn out, so that it can be left to be sorted out anotherday.

Overall, then, we are offered a way in which moral reasons work, andan account of the perfectly moral agent whose decision processes fitthe way the reasons work, that is, fit the way in which an action canget to be right or wrong. But the way moral reasons work is probablyvery different from the way that other reasons work. Other reasons arenot principle-driven. Morality is special, since without principles itis impossible. (Remember that the two arguments given above for theneed for principles appealed to the special nature ofrightness and wrongness, or of moral properties in general.)

3. What the Particularist Believes

The particularist believes, like the generalist, that the perfectlymoral person is the person who is fully sensitive to the moral reasonspresent in the case. But the particularist paints a very differentpicture of what it is to be fully sensitive to those reasons. Theparticularist picture is one which takes moral reasons to operate inways that are not noticeably different from the way in which otherreasons function—more ordinary reasons for action, say, orreasons for belief rather than for action. Morality may bedistinguished by its subject matter, but moral thought does not have adistinctive structure.

If we are to form a view about what a full sensitivity to the reasonsamounts, to, we need to have some picture of how moral reasonswork. The core of particularism is its insistence on variability.Essentially the generalist demands sameness in the way in which oneand the same consideration functions case by case, while theparticularist sees no need for any such thing. A feature can make onemoral difference in one case, and a different difference inanother. Features have, as we might put it, variablerelevance. Whether a feature is relevant or not in a new case,and if so what exact role it is playing there (the ‘form’that its relevance takes there) will be sensitive to other features ofthe case. This claim emerges as the consequence of the coreparticularist doctrine, which we can call the holism of reasons. Thisis the doctrine that what is a reason in one case may be no reason atall in another, or even a reason on the other side. In ethics, afeature that makes one action better can make another one worse, andmake no difference at all to a third.

Particularists suppose that this doctrine is true for reasons ingeneral, so that its application to moral reasons is just part andparcel of a larger story. For an example that comes from a non-moralcontext, suppose that it currently seems to me that something beforeme is red. Normally, one might say, that is a reason (somereason, that is, not necessarily sufficient reason) for me to believethat there is something red before me. But in a case where I alsobelieve that I have recently taken a drug that makes blue things lookred and red things look blue, the appearance of a red-looking thingbefore me is reason for me to believe that there is a blue, not a red,thing before me. It is not as if it is some reason for me to believethat there is something red before me, but that as such a reason itis overwhelmed by contrary reasons. It is no longer any reason atall to believe that there is something red before me; indeed itis a reason for believing the opposite.

Examples like this establish the variability of reasons for belief.Turning to reasons for action, we might point out that in somecontexts the fact that something is against the law is a reason not todo it, but in others it is a reason to do it (so as to protest, let ussay, against the existence of a law governing an aspect of privatelife with which the law should not interfere). Examples of this sortcan be multiplied at will. They appear to establish the holism, orvariability of reasons for belief and of ordinary reasons foraction. The particularist suggests that there is no reason to supposethat moral reasons function in a radically different way from otherreasons. Indeed, there is a sort of presumption that they don’t. Thatpresumption is partly grounded on the fact that nobody is able to saywith any confidence just which reasons are moral ones and which arenot. This means that providing a radical difference between the way inwhich reasons of the two sorts function should seem rather peculiar.But the presumption is also partly grounded in the fact that thedifference suggested by the generalist is very radical, since itaffects what one might call the very logic of moral thought. Tosuppose that moral thought has a different logic from other thought isto adopt a bifurcated conception of rationality. Moral rationality isprinciple-bound, based on invariant reasons. Other forms ofrationality are nothing like this at all. Particularists think thatthis suggestion is very strange.

These points about holism or the variability of reasons need to beexpressed in different ways, according to the conception of principlesthat they are aimed at—the absolute or thecontributory. Principles of both sorts aim to specify invariantreasons, but the reasons they specify are rather different instyle. Absolute principles, which specify a feature or combination offeatures that always succeed in making an action wrong (or right)wherever they occur, purport to specify an invariant overall reason,as we might put it. Counter-examples to suggested principles of thissort will consist in cases where the supposed feature or combinationof features is present but the action concerned is not wrong overall(or right overall). Contributory principles are different. Theypurport to specify features that always make the same contribution,irrespective of context. Counter-examples to suggested contributoryprinciples consist of cases where the feature cited is present buteither does not count at all or counts the wrong way (a supposedright-making feature actually making an action worse rather thanbetter, for instance). Particularists take their holism to be a reasonto reject any invariance of reasons, of either sort—whether atthe overall or at the contributory level. Reasons as such, they say,do not need to behave in this sort of way. It is consistent with thisto allow that there might be some invariant reasons. What theparticularist says, however, is that the possibility of morality in noway depends upon a suitable provision of invariant reasons of thesorts that principles are attempting to specify. Principle-basedaccounts of morality, such as those that specify ten (or some othernumber) of basic moral principles (e.g., Gert 1998), are left lookingrather peculiar.

The picture so far is that actions get to be right or wrong in a widevariety of ways. Particularists are ‘pluralists’,believing that there is more than one morally relevant property. Manyproperties (or features) are capable of making a difference to how oneought to act, and are therefore capable of being morally relevant. Buta property can be relevant on one occasion and not on another, and cancount in favour of action here and against action there. Isn’t thisall terribly confusing? If it is all as much of a mess as this, howare we capable of keeping track of it? Are we reduced to looking atthe case before us and hoping that the complex interrelations betweenthe various features that happen to be relevant here will just strikeus, somehow? Is there no such thing as general moral knowledge thatone can extract from experience and bring to bear on a new case?Particularists need not deny this possibility. The question will bewhat form such general moral knowledge will take if it is notknowledge of the sort of invariabilities that particularism sets itsface against, and that principles try to capture. I suggest that whatthe experienced moral judge knows is a range of ways in which afeature can contribute to determining how to act. There need be nohard core to this set of ‘sorts of contribution’, nocommon element, no limited set of paradigm cases. Instead, inunderstanding the practical purport of a concept such ascruelty, what one knows is the sort of difference it can make thatwhat one proposes to do would be cruel, in a way that enables one tosee new differences made in situations rather different from those onehas encountered so far. Particularists may suggest that this is ratherlike what one knows when one knows the semantic purport of aterm. In knowing the semantic purport (= the meaning) of‘and’, one is in command of a range of contributions that‘and’ can make to sentences in which it occurs. There needbe no ‘core meaning’ to ‘and’; it would bewrong to suggest that ‘and’ basically signifiesconjunction. If you only know about conjunction, you are not acompetent user of ‘and’ in English, for there are lots ofuses that have little or nothing to do with conjunction. For example:two and two make four; ‘And what do you think you are doing?(said on discovering a child playing downstairs in the middle of thenight); John and Mary lifted the boulder; the smoke rose higher andhigher. Those competent with ‘and’ are not unsettled byinstances such as these, but nor are they trying to understand them interms of similarity to a supposed conjunctive paradigm or core case.Particularists in ethics will want to say the same sort of thing aboutwhat one knows when one knows the practical purport of a concept; onebecomes familiar with its practical grammar. There is complexity,then, but it is manageable complexity.

This tells us how particularists will conceive of moral deliberation,when an individual tries to work out for herself how to act. There isno attempt to bring principles to bear on the situation, but there isan attempt to work out what matters here and how it matters, in waysthat may involve an indirect appeal to the way things were or might beelsewhere. And when two particularists are engaged in dispute, it isnot as if they are reduced to saying ‘I see it thisway’. There are ways of supporting or defending the way onetakes the situation to be. A particularist can perfectly well point tohow things are in another perhaps simpler case, and suggest that thisreveals something about how they are in the present more difficultone. There need be no generalist suggestion that since this featuremade a certain difference there, it must make the same differencehere. But our judgement can be informed, and indeed defended, byseeing the way in which a feature functions in situations thatresemble the present one in various ways. What we learn is not howthings must be here, but how they might very wellbe. Argument between two people who differ on the way to see thepresent case can make progress as each brings to bear other situationsthat are both appropriately different from and also appropriatelysimilar to the one before them. There is no guarantee thatthis process will lead to agreement, any more than the generalistunderstanding of how disagreements get resolved leads us to supposethat all disagreements are resoluble, if treated properly. But thingscan happen even where there is no guarantee that they will happen.

Finally, in this section, how does the particularist understandsomeone who says ‘that is stealing, and therefore you should notdo it’? One way of understanding what is said here is as anabbreviated argument, which fully specified reads ‘that isstealing and stealing is always wrong; therefore that iswrong’. This reading introduces silent appeal to aprinciple—either absolute or contributory, according to one’sway of understanding ‘that is wrong’. And it suggests thatwhat we have here is really an inference, or argument, with premisesand a conclusion. This is not how the particularist is likely to seethings. Particularism is likely to think of ‘that is stealingand therefore it is wrong’ as saying ‘that is stealing andwrong for that reason’. This is not an argument, and there isnothing going on here that really merits being called inference. It issimply an account of the presence of a reason and a statement of whatreason it is, that is, of what it is a reason for (or against).

4. Problems for Absolute Principles


The previous section tried to lay out the main aspects of theparticularist conception of moral thought, and of the way in whichactions get to be right and wrong. Particularists do not, however,restrict themselves to expounding their own view. Of course, they arelikely to say that their view is at least possible, and thatgeneralism tends merely to assume otherwise and then to carry onblithely. The mere possibility that particularism should be true is ofsome importance in the dialectic. But there are also reasons fordoubting whether any form of generalism can really be true. Some ofthese have already emerged; these involved the attempt to establish abroad holism of reasons, by appeal to examples. There are replies tosuch attempts, which we will consider in Section 8 (below); the replies amount to the claim that, despite appearances, holismmust be false.

In the present section we consider reasons for thinking that moralitycannot be a system of absolute principles.

The first reason is that absolute principles cannot conflict, and thatif they cannot conflict a vital aspect of our moral lives (that is,conflict) has been left out of account altogether by any theory thatsupposes that morality is entirely governed by absoluteprinciples.

If two supposed absolute principles conflict in a single case, one ofthem must be abandoned. Suppose, for instance that one principle saysthat all actions of type A are wrong and another says thatall actions of type B are right. Suppose also that no actioncan be both overall wrong and overall right, and that it is possiblefor an action to be of both types, A and B. Thingsare all right so far, but if there were an action of both types, oneor other of the principles would have to have abandoned. But thismeans that we have no room for conflict. What is meant by moralconflict here is not conflict between two individuals, but conflictbetween reasons for and against in a given case. There cannotbe that sort of conflict, if all reasons are specified in absoluteprinciples, because if the reasons conflicted the principlesspecifying them would conflict, and this would just show that one ofthe principles was a fraud. Conflict would, then, never be more than aproduct of our own misconceptions. There would be no realconflict.

What this criticism amounts to is the complaint that we need to beable to make sense of cases in which there are moral reasons on bothsides, for and against. But we cannot do this effectively if all moralreasons are specified in absolute principles. Morality cannot,therefore, be just a system of absolute principles. The only way inwhich we could continue to think of morality as governed by absoluteprinciples is to suppose that there is only one such principle, sothat there is no possibility of conflict between principles, or toarrange things in some other way so that the principles are incapableof conflict. (Even then, of course, there would be the worry thatconflict is real, and that to arrange things so that conflict ismerely apparent is to erase something important.) We know of oneposition that offers only one principle: classical utilitarianism. Theargument against this ‘monistic’ position is ratherdifferent. The argument is the direct claim that monism is false;there is more than one sort of relevant property, or more than one wayin which features can get to be morally relevant. So a position withonly one absolute principle is false, and one with more than one suchprinciple cannot make proper sense of conflict.

5. Problems for Contributory Principles

The best form of generalism, therefore, probably tries to do the wholething in terms of contributory principles—principles thatspecify considerations that always count as contributory reasons. Inthis picture it is quite possible for there to be reasons on bothsides. The classic example of such a theory is W. D. Ross’s theory ofPrima Facie Duties (Ross 1930, ch. 2). This is just an attempt toput into good theoretical order our untutored intuitions that thereare many different sorts of things that can make a difference to howwe should act. There is a principle that says ‘Be just’,but this does not mean that all just actions are in fact right; itonly means that the justness of an action counts in its favour, orthat an action is the better for being just. Sadly, an action can bejust but still wrong for other reasons. This means that it cansometimes be morally required of us that we act unjustly. If it is,there will be features of the situation that require it of us; perhapswe owe an enormous debt of gratitude, or perhaps by this unjust actionwe can save Holland from flooding.

The generalist who takes this line supposes, qua generalist,that a feature that makes a difference in one case will make the samesort of difference in every case, and that there will be acontributory principle specifying its regular contribution. This iswhat particularism is concerned to rebut. Particularists applaudRoss’s insistence that there can be many features of the situationeach of which makes some difference to how one should act; they merelywant to say that the matter is not regular in the way that Ross, as ageneralist, supposes. They have three points to make, then. The firstinvolves producing counter-examples to suggested regular contributors.Ross supposes, for instance, in accordance with long tradition, thatthe fact that one has promised to do something is always somereason to do it. A counter-example to this claim would be a casewhere, for peculiar reasons no doubt, the fact that one has promisedto do something is either no reason to do it or even a reason not todo it. Suppose, for instance, that I have promised not to keep mynext three promises; what then? Again, does one always have at leastsome reason to tell the truth? A little bit of ingenuity enables oneto come up with a case in which the fact that this is true is a reasonnot to say it. And so on.

The second prong of the particularist attack is to ask why we shouldsuppose that a feature that counts in favour in one case must countthe same way wherever it appears. To this question, I think, no realanswer has been produced. Generalists tend to point out that if oneclaims that a feature counts in favour here and against there, one hassomething to explain. But the particularist is happy to admit this. Itis true that if a feature counts in favour in one case and against inanother broadly similar case, there must be an explanation of how thiscan be. That explanation will presumably be given by pointing to otherdifferences between the cases. In the second case, perhaps, somethingthat is required for the feature to count in favour is in fact absent,though it was present in the first case. Such explanations must beavailable, and they can be found. None of this does anything torestore a generalist conception of how reasons function.

The third prong of attack on contributory generalism involves askingfor an appropriate epistemology. How are we to tell, from what we candiscern case by case, that this feature will function in the same waywherever else it appears? Ross, our paradigm generalist, holds that westart with the recognition that this feature counts in favour here,but that we can immediately tell (by a process which he calls‘intuitive induction’) that it must count in favoureverywhere. The question is how this is supposed to work. What is itthat is discernible in one case and tells us that what we have heremust repeat in all other cases? (Ross rightly does not suppose that welearn our moral principles by ordinary induction.) The standard, andprobably the only, answer to this question is wrong. This answeramounts to an account of what it is to make a difference in aparticular case—what it is to be relevant here. That accountunderstands a feature as relevant here if and only if, in any casewhere it is the only relevant feature, it would decide theissue. Now if this account of particular relevance weredefensible, we would indeed have some reason to suppose that what isrelevant here would be relevant in any other situation. For on eachfurther situation it will still be true that if it were the onlyrelevant feature, it would decide the issue. So relevance is indeedgeneral relevance, on this showing. And this gives the generalist theepistemology he needs, for it is now easy to see how, in discerningthat this feature matters here, we immediately see that it would makethe same difference on every occurrence. For it is true of it on eachoccurrence that if it were the only relevant feature, it would decidethe issue.

Sadly, the account of relevance that this all depends on is notdefensible. It is, after all, true of any feature whatever that if itwere the only relevant feature, it would decide the issue. The word‘relevant’ appears within this formulation, and it cannotbe removed. For if we said merely that if this feature were theonly feature, it would decide the issue, we would have saidsomething that is probably both false and, worse, incoherent. It wouldbe incoherent because the idea that a feature could be present alone,without any other features whatever, is surely nonsense. The idea thatan action could be merely kind, say, without having any otherfeatures at all, makes no sense at all. Further, there may be somefeatures that can only be relevant if some other feature is alsorelevant—features that (in terms of reasons) only give usreasons if some other feature is giving us reasons as well. Forinstance, in the Prisoner’s Dilemma one prisoner only has reasons ifthe other one does. If this can occur, any ‘isolationtest’ for reasons must miss some reasons out. Finally, trying toisolate the contribution of a feature by asking how things would havebeen if no other feature had made any contribution is, when one comesto think of it, a rather peculiar enterprise. It is uncomfortably liketrying to determine the contribution made by one football player tohis team’s success today by asking how things would have been if therehad been no other players on the field. So the notion of relevancethat is required as a basis for generalist epistemology isunacceptable.

Other Particulars

6. The Generalists’ Reply

Generalists have two possible replies to these attacks, assumingalways that they accept that many of the contributory principles thatthey originally suggested have been refuted by counter-example. Thefirst thing they can do is to complicate the principles. The secondthing they can do is to restrict their generalism to a limited groupof reasons.

Taking the first tack, one might suggest that if the fact that one haspromised is in some cases not a reason for doing what one promised todo, there will be some explanation of this. Suppose that theexplanation is that what one promised to do was immoral. All one needsto do is to suck this feature into one’s account of the supposedlygeneral reason. So now the reason in ordinary cases will be that onepromised to do it and it is not immoral. We might object that not eventhis is always a reason. What if one’s promise has been extracted byduress? The response will be to suck that into the reason aswell. This reason is growing all the time; now it is that one promisedto do it, that it is not itself immoral, and one’s promise was notmade under duress. This battle can continue; it has no obviousstopping point. Still, we might say, eventually ingenuity will giveout, and we will reach a (now very complex) specification of a reasonto which we can think of no appropriate counter-example.

But note what has happened here. We started from a consideration thatwe took to count in favour of our action, and we have ended with acomplex specification of something that plays rather a different role.What we got at the end was more like an elaborate guarantee thatsomething mentioned in the guarantee counts in favour of the action.Consider the promising example above. That I promised does, let ussuppose, count in favour of my acting. But that my promise was notmade under duress does not do that at all. It functions as anenabling condition, one in whose absence the first feature(that I promised) would not have been the reason it is. It is notitself a reason to do the action; that role is distinctive, and it isplayed here only by the fact that I promised. Note, further, that thecombination of that reason and this enabling condition is not itself a(further) reason in favour of doing the action. So the distinctionbetween ‘counting in favour’ and ‘enabling somethingelse to count in favour’ is significant, as particularists seethings. What the generalist reached, in defending her supposed reasonby complication, is therefore not itself a reason at all, but only aguarantee (when finally complete) that there is a reason somewherewithin it. And why should we suppose that nothing can be a reasonunless we can specify a condition that guarantees its status as areason, and that it is only a reason when present in a larger statewithin which it is guaranteed to serve as such? No obvious answersuggests itself. The whole enterprise of defending one’s reason bycomplication begins to look strangely irrelevant, and its productunnecessary. One would have thought that there can be reasons that canfunction perfectly well without this sort of guarantee. And thereasons given on behalf of generalism in Section 2 (above) do nothing to show otherwise.

The second generalist line of defence involves drawing in one’s hornsa little. Ross distinguishes between derived and underived prima facieduties. The underived ones are the duty to do the just thing, to actfor the best, not to cause harm, to keep promises, and so on. Otherduties are derived from these. So there is, as we might put it, a coreof invariability surrounded by a variable periphery. I might have aduty to go up to London today to see my son Hugh. But this duty isderived from a general duty to do what I have promised to do. As wemight put it, that Hugh is expecting to see me today sometimes givesme a reason to go up to London and sometimes does not; it is aderived, and therefore variable, reason. If it does give me a reason,it will because it is keyed in some way into an unvariable, underivedreason. So derived reasons are variable, and underived onesinvariant. On this account, counter-examples will only do damage ifthey are aimed at the supposed underived reasons. (See McNaughton andRawling 2000.)

A different version of this picture maintains that invariant reasonsderive from the virtues (Crisp 2000). That an action is generous,honest, just, thoughtful, or helpful is always a reason to do it. Theinvariant core is given by the virtues, therefore, and the variantperiphery depends upon that invariant core. This last point isimportant, because this defence of generalism needs to show why it isthat morality requires a basis of invariance. Just to come upwith a few invariant reasons is nothing to the point. Those whosuppose they can seriously damage particularism by specifying a few(probably fairly complex) invariant reasons do little to show thatmoral thought depends (as it was put in the Introduction above) on asuitable provision of principles (which we are now understanding as‘invariant reasons’). The suggestion we are dealing withnow does well in this respect. We are offered an invariant core and anaccount of why there must be such a core if moral thought is to bepossible at all.

Of course, for the suggestion to work, it must be the case that thevirtues function invariantly. Particularists are likely to say, forinstance, that an action can be considerate without necessarily beingthe better for it. It may be considerate to wipe the torturer’s brow,but this fact hardly functions as a reason to wipe, or makes his sweata reason for us to wipe it off. The torturer’s other activitiesprevent what would ordinarily give us a reason from doing sohere. Similarly, it may be that a cruel response is exactly the onecalled for in the circumstances; cruelty, according to particularists,need not be an invariant reason. A generalist reply to thesesuggestions depends on showing that similar remarks cannot be madeabout (a sufficient range of) the other virtues.

What is at issue between particularism and generalism is the nature ofmoral rationality. Particularists maintain that there can bereasons—moral reasons—even if the features that give usthose reasons function variably rather than invariably in theirreason-giving. Generalists suppose that this is not possible. Theyclaim either that all reasons, when properly understood,must function invariably, or that there is an invariant core even ifthere is a variable periphery. To argue for the first claim, theyoften demand, for each reason, that there be a discoverable guaranteeof its status as such. But until they have offered some justificationfor this demand, their generalism will rest on nothing. Crisp’sposition is a model of the second approach because it offers anaccount of why the variability that the particularist is so fond ofpointing to must be built around an invariant core. But I would saythat the supposed virtues do not in fact play the role requiredhere.

7. Do Particularism and Generalism Differ in Practice or Only in Theory?

Particularists are fond of saying that generalists will make baddecisions. One reason for this is that generalism seems to validatecertain patterns of argument that particularists would think of asinvalid. For instance, a generalist might think ‘Feature F madea difference in that case; so it must make the same sort of differencehere too’. If our decision in the second case was influenced bysuch ‘reasoning’, it would have been influenced by amistake, according to the particularist. Particularism supposes thatone cannot extract from one case anything that is guaranteed to make adifference to another. They recommend keeping one’s eyes firmly fixedon the case before one rather than trying to squeeze an answer to oneproblem out of the answer to another. This does not show that there isnothing to be learnt from other cases. Particularists can even allowthat it might, on occasion, be impossible to see the right answer hereif one does not work to that answer from consideration of other cases,suitably constructed or provided by experience. One can perfectly wellsay ‘this feature mattered there, and so it might well matterhere—I had better have a look and see whether it does ornot’. What one cannot and should not do is to say ‘itmattered there and so it must matter here’. Soparticularists allow a relevance to moral experience; they are notreduced to just gazing vacantly at the case before them and coming upwith an answer that somehow seems appropriate. There is a practicaldifference between particularism and generalism, but it is notthis.

There is another possible practical difference between the two. Thiscomes out when we consider two pretty similar cases of which wenonetheless want to make different judgements. Nobody supposes thatthis is impossible. The question is rather what is rationally requiredof the judge in such a case. The generalist might end up demandingthat one make the same judgement in both cases unless one can providea principle that distinguishes them. The particularist, by contrast,might demand only that one make the same judgement in both casesunless one can offer some reason for not doing so. Some, however,would not even demand that. All agree that there must be some relevantdifference between any two cases of which one wants to make differentjudgements. Might it be enough to allow that there is some suchdifference, even though one has no idea what it is? Or is onerationally required to be able to make some suggestion about what itis? Or is one’s suggestion to be formulated as a possible principlegoverning all similar cases? Particularists might be distinguishedfrom generalists by their answer to these questions.

8. Problems for Particularism

People reject the persuasive charms of particularism for, broadly, twosorts of reasons: reasons to do with rationality, and reasons to dowith motivation. I take rationality first. Three points are made. Thefirst and most direct is that thinking rationally requires at leastthat one think consistently, and in ethics this just means taking thesame feature to be the same reason wherever it occurs. Particularism,therefore, denies the rationality of moral thought. Second, what isthe difference between moral choice and choosing chocolates? Thedifference is that when choosing morally we are required to makesimilar choices in similar circumstances; not so for the choicebetween rum truffles and peppermint creams. Third, what account canthe particularist give of our ability to learn from our moralexperience? Such moral self-education is certainly possible. Anadolescent who has so far refused to accept that tact is a virtue canbe brought to see the importance of being tactful in a particularcase, and is then in a position to apply this knowledge moregenerally. The generalist can understand this as the extraction of aprinciple from an earlier case, which we then apply to laterones. What can the particularist offer as an alternative account?

Of these three points, the third is the hardest. The answer to thefirst is that, when we are thinking of reasons for belief, the sort ofconsistency required of us is merely that we do not adopt beliefs thatcannot all be true together. Why should we understand the consistencyrequirement in a different way when we turn to moral reasons? Simplyto insist that this is so must be to beg the question againstparticularism.

The second question asks us to justify a distinction between mattersof whim, such as the choosing of chocolates, and matters of weightyreasons, such as those involved in moral choice. But this need not bea problem. Moral reasons as the particularist understands them occurin the one case and not in the other. Nothing at all like them appliesto the choosing of chocolates (normally). This does nothing to showthat in morality, unlike in the area of whim, we are required to makesimilar choices in similar situations. There are quite enough otherdifferences between morality and whim.

Other Details Definition

The third question asks us what relevance other cases do have to a newcase, if not the sort of relevance that the generalist supposes. Theanswer to this is that experience of similar cases can tell us whatsort of thing to look out for, and the sort of relevance that acertain feature can have; in this way our judgement in a new case canbe informed, though it is not forced or constrained, by our experienceof similar cases in the past. There is no need to suppose that the wayin which this works is by the extraction of principles from theearlier cases, which we then impose on the new case.

So much for one sort of complaint. I now turn to questions which focuson motivation. The general idea here is that a particularist moralityis a lax morality: without principles, anything goes. But there arevarious ways in which this thought can be built up. The first is justto say that morality is in the business of imposing constraints on ourchoices. For there to be constraints, there needs to be regulation,and regulation means rules, and rules mean principles. This, however,is just wrong. There can be fully particular constraints on action,and the judgement that this action would be wrong is surely just sucha thing. Constraints do not need to be general constraints, any morethan reasons need to be general reasons.

Another line is that the person of principle will be unbudgeable;having taken a stand on an issue, he will not be moved from it. Aparticularist will not be like this. But here I have two things tosay. First, nothing prevents a particularist from being of firmconviction case by case; an unbudgeable conviction need not be foundedon principle, but simply on the nature of the case. Unbudgeability andprinciple have nothing essentially in common. Second, even if it weretrue that a principled person will on some points be unbudgeable, thequestion is whether those points are the right points. The worryingthought is that they might not be—that in being driven byprinciple, our principled person will distort the relevance ofrelevant features by insisting on filtering them through principles,in a way that is at odds with the falsehood of generalism. In my view,unbudgeability and principles go very badly together. Unbudgeabilitymay be a virtue in its place, but to be unbudgeably involved in adistortion is not a great triumph. If you are going to be incorrigibleyou had better always be right; incorrigible error is the worst of allworlds.

A different suggestion is that morality has the sort of authority overus that can only be provided by a rule. Here, however, I think thatparticularists should simply dig their heels in, and insist that moralreasons have all the authority they need already. She needs medicalhelp, and I am the only person around to summon it. This situationdemands a certain response from me, in a way that has authority overme because there is nothing that I can do to get out of it.

Still, we might say, there is the ever-present danger of backslidingin ethics; we see the right, but somehow cannot bring ourselves to doit. With principles, we have something capable of stiffening ourwaning resolve. Without principles, we will fall short all toooften. One answer to this is that it is an empirical hypothesis forwhich there is little real evidence. What is more, the need for moralstiffening only arises once we have already decided what moralityrequires of us here, and the real question was whether that decisionneeded to be based on principle. The point about backsliding doesnothing to show that the decision from which we might otherwise slideneeds to have been made on principle. The supposed need for principlescomes after that decision, not before.

Particular others and generalized others

Any Other Particulars

More to the point might be a worry about special pleading. This isdifferent from backsliding, because the special pleader is the personwho makes exceptions in their own favour. It would not be right formost people to do what I propose to do, but I am special; so I am leftoff the moral hook that others are caught by. This sort of specialpleading occurs in the process of making our moral decision; it is notto do with motivation thereafter, as backsliding is. With backslidingI say ‘this is wrong but I am going to do it all thesame’; with special pleading I say ‘this would be wrongfor others, but not for me’.

The reason why there is a genuine worry about special pleading is thatone can always find some difference between this act and a plain duty,and there seems to be no way, within the resources available toparticularism, to prevent such differences from being appealed to bythose who, in bad faith, want to let themselves off the moral hook. Aprinciple, we might say, would, or at least should, stop this sort ofthing.

What is really going on here is that we are appealing to principles torectify a natural distortion in moral judgement. If such judgementfocuses only on the reasons present in the case before us, it is alltoo easy to twist those reasons to suit oneself. So we use principlesto stop ourselves from doing that. But really the remedy for poormoral judgement is not a different style of moral judgement,principle-based judgement, but just better moral judgement. There isonly one real way to stop oneself distorting things in one’s ownfavour, and that is to look again, as hard as one can, at the reasonspresent in the case, and see if really one is so different from othersthat what would be required of them is not required of oneself. Thismethod is not infallible, I know; but then neither was the appeal toprinciple.


The bibliography presented here is a short list of piecesrecommended as further reading along with those referred to in thetext above. A more comprehensive bibliography is available in theentry on moral particularism and moral generalism.

  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Roger Crisp (trans.),Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Audi, R., 1998, ‘Moderate Intuitionism and the Epistemologyof Moral Judgement’, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice,1: 15–44 (especially pp. 36–41).
  • Bakhurst, D. J., Hooker, B. and Little, M. (eds.),2013, Thinking about Reasons, Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress.
  • Berker, S., 2007, ‘ParticularReasons’, Ethics, 118: 109–39.
  • Crisp, R., 2000, ‘Particularizing Particularism’, inHooker and Little 2000, pp. 23–47.
  • Dancy, J., 1983, ‘Ethical Particularism andMorally Relevant Properties’, Mind, 92:530–47.
  • –––, 1993, Moral Reasons, Oxford:Blackwell.
  • –––, 2004, Ethics without Principles,Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Darwall, S., 2013, ‘Morality and Principle’, inBakhurst et al. 2013, pp. 168‐91.
  • Dworkin, G., 1995, ‘Unprincipled Ethics’, MidwestStudies in Philosophy (Volume 20: Moral Concepts), Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press, pp. 224–39.
  • Hooker, B. W., 2000, ‘Moral Particularism—Wrong andBad’, in Hooker and Little 2000, pp. 1–23.
  • –––, and Little, M. (eds.), 2000, MoralParticularism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Jackson, F., Pettit, P., and Smith, M., 2000, ‘EthicalParticularism and Patterns’, in Hooker and Little 2000, pp.79–99.
  • Kagan, S., 1988, ‘The AdditiveFallacy’, Ethics, 99: 5–31.
  • Lance M., Potrč, M. and Strahovnik, V. (eds.),2008, Challenging Moral Particularism, London: Routledge.
  • Lance, M. and Little, M., 2007, ‘Where the Laws Are’,in R. Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics(Volume 2), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 149–71.
  • Little, M., 2000, ‘Moral Generalities Revisited’, inHooker and Little 2000, pp. 276–304.
  • –––, 1994, ‘Moral Realism:Non-Naturalism’, Philosophical Books, 35:225–32.
  • McDowell, J., 1979, ‘Virtue and Reason’, TheMonist, 62: 331–50.
  • McKeever, S. and Ridge, M., 2006, Principled Ethics: Generalism asa Regulative Ideal, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • McNaughton, D. A., 1988, Moral Vision, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • –––, 1996, ‘An Unconnected Heap ofDuties?’, Philosophical Quarterly, 46:433–47.
  • McNaughton, D. A. and Rawling, P., 2000, ‘UnprincipledEthics’, in Hooker and Little 2000, pp. 256–75.
  • Raz, J., 2000, ‘The Truth in Particularism’, in Hookerand Little 2000, pp. 48–78.
  • –––, 2006, ‘The Trouble with Particularism (Dancy’sVersion)’, Mind, 115: 99–120.
  • Richardson, H. S., 1990, ‘SpecifyingNorms’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 19:279–310.
  • Ross, W. D., 1930, The Right and the Good, Oxford:Clarendon Press.
  • Shafer-Landau, R., 1997, ‘MoralRules’, Ethics, 107: 584–611.
  • Väyrenen, P., 2009, ‘A Theory of Hedged MoralPrinciples’, in R. Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies inMetaethics (Volume 4), Oxford: Oxford University Press,pp. 91–132.

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