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by James C. Taggart
After wondering how seriously indirect theories of perception are really intended, J.L. Austin wryly observes, Theres the bit where you say it and the bit where you take it back. 1 Now Austins quip could also apply to moral particularism since many wonder how seriously this counter-intuitive doctrine with its broad rejection of moral principles is intended. One might lower the views intuitive costs in ways suggested by Austin (e.g. really its just what weve all believed all along). 2 But like most friends of particularism, I also want to take it back, to limit the views rejection of moral principles. However, the position that I defend criterial particularism differs in several important respects from other friendly attempts to save particularism from excess. First, criterial particularism differs in how it admits moral principles, to wit, via paradigm (or criterial) cases that partially give the meaning of moral concepts. Second, the view I defend differs in that the moral principles it admits are both analytic and strict. Third, and most importantly, criterial particularism conceives of particularism differently. Unlike most particularists, I maintain that particularism is best understood in terms of the uncodifiability of moral concepts, not holism about reasons. For particularism conceived in terms of criteria and uncodifiability avoids the implausibilities that stem from holism and burden other forms of particularism endorsing this doctrine, no matter how much they take it back. Some particularists do not take it back at all. Call this unreconstructed particularism. While not widely accepted, unreconstructed particularism is nevertheless the foil for more moderate particularisms. Therefore, after discussing different kinds of moral principles, I examine unreconstructed particularism to motivate the main debate over how best to scale back particularisms rejection of moral principles. While the bald statement that particularism rejects all moral principles says something about the view, to understand what makes particularism distinctive we must consider different kinds of moral principles. We can do this by recalling the aims of moral theory. Corresponding to theorys practical aim of guiding action, we find moral principles in the sense of moral rules. Corresponding to the explanatory aims of moral theorists, we find two additional kinds of moral principles. 3 At one level, moral theorists try to link combinations of pro tanto moral considerations (e.g. that an action is beneficent and that it involves lying) to overall verdicts of right and wrong. Principles tracing such connections would be moral principles in the sense of moral verdicts. At a deeper level, moral theorists also try to link natural or, nonmoral properties to pro tanto moral considerations, showing us what underlying properties make actions just, cruel, beneficent, etc. Principles connecting non-moral properties (e.g. hitting someone) to pro tanto moral considerations (e.g. cruelty) yield moral principles in the sense of moral reasons. 4 According to which kind of moral principles one rejects, someone might subscribe to particularism about moral verdicts but not to particularism about moral reasons. As it turns out, particularism about moral reasons is where the action is. Particularism about moral rules inspires little debate because, as Roger Crisp observes, it may be accepted by ethical theorists of any stripe. 5 Nor is particularism about moral verdicts distinctive since moral pluralism is also particularistic in this sense. That is, moral pluralism also relies on judgment, not principles, to move from pro tanto moral considerations to overall moral verdicts. So, while particularism involves rejecting moral principles in the three senses I have mentioned qua moral rules, qua moral verdicts, and qua moral reasons the debate over particularism centers on its distinctive rejection of moral principles qua moral reasons and how, if at all, this distinctive rejection should be taken back. 6

In his seminal (and unreconstructed) work on particularism, Jonathan Dancy takes W.D. Rosss pluralism as his starting point and pushes skepticism of moral principles even further. Rossian moral principles hold that the features of an action that we cite as reasons for or against doing the action (e.g. its causing pain) count the same way either in favor of or against on every occasion that an action possesses such a feature. 7 But Dancy objects to Rosss generalism: Rosssimply takes it as obvious that there cannot be such a thing as a stubbornly particular reason. He supposes it metaphysically impossible for a property to make a difference here without making the same difference everywhere. 8

While Dancy can allow that some reason-giving features may de facto count morally the same way everywhere they appear, he rejects the idea, reflected in Rossian principles,

that all reason-giving features must behave this way in order to qualify as reasons. What generalists like Ross fail to acknowledge is both the possibility of stubbornly particular reason[s] and, what this possibility means for Dancy, that moral reasons are holistic. Dancy, then, rejects moral principles and embraces stubbornly particular reason[s] because of holism. For him: The leading thought behind particularism is that the behaviour of a reason (or of a consideration that serves as a reason) in a new case cannot be predicted from its behaviour elsewhere. The way in which the consideration functions here either will or at least may be affected by other considerations here present. 9 In other words, Dancy makes two key points. First, something that serves as a reason in one case is stubbornly particular in the sense that we cannot predict how it will behave in other cases based on how it behaves in the case before us. And second, holism explains this particularistic aspect of moral reasons. Holism about reasons is perhaps best elucidated by analogy with art appreciation and criticism. 10 The nonmoral features of an action contribute to the actions rightness (or wrongness) just as the elements of a painting (e.g. brushstrokes, colors, shading, etc.) contribute to the pictures beauty (or lack thereof). For example, diminishing the foreshortening of a characters foot may be just what is needed to correct and balance one painting, but this same thing done to another painting would be irrelevant or make things worse. Indeed, with respect to serious works of art, no one would think to generalize. To generalize would reveal a fundamental lack of understanding about (serious) art. 11 So it is, then, for the features that we cite as reasons for (or against) doing an action. Intentionally telling a falsehood in one situation may contribute to the wrongness of what one does, but in other situations the fact that one would be lying may be irrelevant to the moral status of ones action (e.g. when playing the game Diplomacy) or actually contribute to its rightness (e.g. when confronted by the secret police looking for political dissidents to torture). It all depends upon the particular situation just as, in the artistic case, it all depends upon the particular work of art. This is unreconstructed particularism. Now rejecting all principles between the moral and the non-moral paints an interesting metaphysical picture. For what relation obtains between the moral and the nonmoral? Eschewing non-naturalism, unreconstructed particularism specifies a relation that Dancy calls

resultance. Resultance means case-by-case determination: the moral properties of a particular situation result from (or obtain in virtue of) certain non-moral properties present in that same situation. Crucially, however, when we examine the different sets of non-moral properties from which various instances of some moral property result a moral propertys resultance base unreconstructed particularism claims that no pattern unifies this motley. Besides being what underlies the various instances of the concept, a moral concepts resultance base has no shape, no form upon which a mind could gain independent cognitive purchase. That moral concepts assayed in nonmoral terms are shapeless gives rise to another claim characteristic of particularism, namely, that moral concepts are uncodifiable. 12 Lastly, consider how unreconstructed particularism conceives moral judgment. David McNaughton maintains: [W]e have to judge each particular moral decision on its merits; we cannot appeal to general rules to make that decision for us What is required is the correct conception of the particular case at hand, with its unique set of properties. There is no substitute for a sensitive and detailed examination of each individual case. 13 In other words, as the art analogy suggests, moral judgment is supposed to focus on the particular case at hand, trying to appreciate its full significance. Or, as Martha Nussbaum has stressed, moral deliberators need to be keen perceivers of particulars. But any plausible account of moral judgment will emphasize particular cases to some extent. Unreconstructed particularism differs by making this emphasis exclusive, claiming that a keen moral-perceptual sensitivity to the features of particular cases is all we need. 14 Moral principles and the inferences they allow are superfluous. 15 Even those who find something important and valuable about the view agree that unreconstructed particularism is untenable for two basic reasons, one metaphysical and one epistemological. Margaret Little and Mark Lance put the metaphysical complaint like this: [Unreconstructed particularism] proves too much. [L]ying, killing, and the infliction of pain have no more intimate connection to wrongness than do truth-telling, healing, and the giving of pleasure. 16 But there is a deep difference in moral status between considerations such as lying and killing on one hand and those such as shoelace color and stepping on cracks in a sidewalk on the other. Lying and killing typically count against an action unless some special circumstances alter their normal relevance. Whereas shoelace color and stepping on cracks in a sidewalk typically are not morally relevant unless some



special circumstances makes them so. Moreover, these differences in moral relevance are not mere statistical coincidences: they arguably reflect something deep about morality. Without admitting moral principles in some form, however, particularism cannot acknowledge this basic aspect of morality. This is the metaphysical objection to unreconstructed particularism. About the epistemological complaint, Little sans Lance informs us: [T]he real stumbling block [is the] suspicion that moral discernment is the only thing particularism has up its epistemic sleeve. as though we must be agnostic about any moral situation not immediately before usas though, until we are able to see or interpret a case for ourselves, there is nothing we can say. 17 And this epistemic abstinence surely gets things wrong. For we can justifiably conclude, even when hearing only second-hand of, e.g., a man who holds a young childs head in the toilet and threatens to drown the child if it fails to stop wetting its pants, that what this man does, what his action involves, counts against it. Call this the abusive boyfriend case. 18 Since, ex hypothesi, we only hear of this case second-hand, even a highly developed and finely tuned moral-perceptual sensitivity cannot account for the uncontroversial moral knowledge that we possess concerning it. To account for this, we require at least some moral principles and the inferences they would allow us. So, keen moral vision is not enough: this is the epistemological complaint against unreconstructed particularism. Given these objections, particularists have reason to take it back, to scale back the views rejection of moral principles. But how different particularists take it back varies according to what they regard as deep and correct about the position. Holism about reasons is what Lance and Little find deep and correct in particularism. They take it back by accepting moral principles with ceteris paribus provisos that hold defeasibly, not strictly, and thereby allow them to remain holists about reasons. 19 Examples of defeasible moral principles include: (i) Normally, that an action involves giving pleasure counts in favor of the action, (ii) Normally, that an action involves lying counts against it and, (iii) Normally, the color of ones shoelaces is irrelevant to the moral quality of what one does. Such principles are defeasible since the connections they assert between non-moral features and pro tanto moral properties can be defeated by abnormal circumstances, that is, when everything else is not equal.

Consider how admitting defeasible moral principles addresses the objections to (unreconstructed) particularism. The metaphysical complaint held that morality has an obvious structure that is lost to us if, following unreconstructed particularism, we simply reject moral principles in toto. While Lance and Little agree that strict moral principles must be rejected due to holism and the possibility of untoward circumstances, defeasible moral principles need not be. Moreover, for Lance and Little, morality is such that certain non-moral features e.g. truth-telling and healing on one hand, lying and killing on the other possess a default moral status, normally counting in favor of or against the actions they characterize, respectively. 20 That we must allow for the possibility of untoward (or abnormal) circumstances does not invalidate talk of default moral status. And, for Lance and Little, this notion of default moral status reflected in various defeasible moral principles captures the underlying structure of morality, thereby addressing the metaphysical complaint. Now recall the epistemological complaint. For unreconstructed particularists, we need to withhold judgment about moral situations not immediately before us; we cannot say anything until we are able to personally confront a case in all its particularity. But surely we can justifiably say, even when hearing only second-hand of the abusive boyfriend case that what the abusive boyfriend does counts against his overall action. Pace unreconstructed particularism, some alternative means of reaching moral conclusions must be granted. Lance and Little remedy this problem by admitting defeasible moral principles (e.g. Normally, holding a young childs head in the toilet and threatening to drown it for wetting its pants counts against doing it). Such principles address the epistemological complaint because, from such principles and unproblematic judgments that circumstances are normal, we can reach the desired conclusions (e.g. that what the abusive boyfriend does counts against his overall action). Elijah Millgram proposes another way that particularists might take it back. 21 While Millgram finds holism about reasons intriguing 22, he regards as more significant the possibilities that particularism suggests for practical reasoning. Accordingly, he would have particularists take it back by accepting as moral principles the action-guiding descriptions stressed in Iris Murdochs distinctive conception of practical reason. For Murdoch, practical reasoning begins and ends at an earlier stage or, better, offstage entirely relative to where it takes places in other, more familiar conceptions of practical reasoning. In Millgrams words:



Most standard ways of seeing the problem space take practical reasoning to proceed from a description of a decision situation, one that is treated as simply given, to a practical conclusionBut to Murdoch's way of thinking, the hard part of practical reasoning is getting the description of your situation right in the first place. (emphasis added) (175) In other words, for Murdoch, the real work of practical reasoning centers on how we describe the practical situations we face and getting these (descriptions) right. Thus, on her view, the real work has already been completed when we reach the point where other, more familiar accounts would have us begin. Murdochs view is quite plausible. Recall the abusive boyfriend case. Once we determine that the goings on next door are best described as this sort of case and not, say, as an unruly child finally getting a strong male rolemodel and authority figure in his life what we should do becomes clear: try to put an end to the abuse by, for instance, calling child protective services. Millgram himself offers other convincing examples. 23 Beyond arguing by example, however, Millgram also points out that: [G]etting the problem description right is pertinentto theoretical reasoning as well. When they are in school, the tricky part is getting the logic or physics students to convert the story problem to the right set of formulae, and after they graduate, the even trickier part is getting them to convert the situation they are facing into the right story problem. (175) Interestingly, Murdochs key idea that getting the problem description right is crucial applies to theoretical reasoning despite the fact that, as Millgram perceptively notes: [W]hen [we] think about what it takes to get the representations right in a strictly theoretical or factual domain, it is natural to start with problems in which the goal is given, and to understand the correctness of the representation in terms of its usefulness in attaining the given goal. (175-176) But if Murdochs insight is important in theoretical or factual contexts where the goal can properly be taken as given, it only possesses greater importance in practical or evaluative contexts where setting the goal is part of [the] problem (176) 24

To review, Murdoch holds that the process of arriving at the right description of our situation constitutes practical reasoning and the description at which we arrive yields a practical reason (i.e. makes it clear what we should do and natural for this action to follow). Millgram then notes that, [P]articularist defusing moves can be recast as Murdochian moves to improved descriptions, ones in which the defusing features play a pivotal role. (175) Accordingly, Millgram recommends that particularists look to Murdoch for a theoretical home. As he puts it, Murdochs way of framing the defusing move avoids some of the excesses of antinomianism. (179) For one, [T]he Murdochian picture can allow substantive rules to play a guiding rather than merely heuristic role , thereby addressing the epistemological complaint. (179) For another, the Murdochian picture allow[s] a particularist to sidestep the objection that we cannot make sense of reasons without allowing for their generality and thereby addresses the metaphysical complaint that morality has no underlying structure. (179) Compared to Lance and Littles defeasibility view, however, Millgrams Murdoch offers particularists the further advantage of deliberative immediacy. By deliberative immediacy, I mean Murdochs view that: [W]ith the right description in place, your practical reasoning is done: true vision occasions right conduct (66/353). You are to arm yourself with descriptions that in an actual choice situation will have direct practical import; in her characterization, the agent... will be saying This is A B C D (normative-descriptive words), and action will follow naturally. (178) 25 From this, Millgram argues: [I]f accepting a description D shows the action a to be appropriate, without further intervening deliberative steps, then we have a rule that takes one from D to a. And this ... allow[s] a particularist to sidestep the objection that we cannot make sense of reasons without allowing for their generality. For on the Murdochian picture, whenever D is the appropriate description, a properly follows. (179) In other words, when someone arrives at a description of her situation that satisfies Murdochs constraints, the action called for by this description typically follows. Further deliberation is not required. This deliberative immediacy proves attractive since it captures a quality that our practical reasoning often does exhibit. By contrast, defeasible generalizations do not capture this immediacy. Consider again the abusive boyfriend case. On Lance and



Littles defeasibility view, merely recognizing that the abusive boyfriend describes ones situation is not enough to draw any conclusions. We also need to ascertain that the embedding context is normal, that no valenceneutralizers or valence-flippers lurk in the surrounding circumstances. But this further step undermines deliberative immediacy. Millgrams proposal, then, has this advantage. While Lance and Littles defeasibility view and Millgrams Murdochian picture both curb excesses of unreconstructed particularism, Millgrams Murdochian picture curbs these excesses and offers a view of deliberation that reflects its usual immediacy.

epistemological objection. Millgrams Murdochian particularism does better on the first score, but falls short because deliberative interminability undermines deliberative immediacy. Moreover, Millgrams approach also fails to satisfactorily address the epistemological objection because he reads Murdoch mistakenly, I believe as open to, if not explicitly endorsing, holism about reasons. 27 On the criterial view of particularism, holism about reasons represents a distortion of a valid but limited point. 28 Instead, on this view, what makes particularism distinctive and important is uncodifiability. The claim, properly understood, that moral concepts are uncodifiable and the corollary that the meaning of moral concepts is instead specified, to the extent it can be, through paradigm (or criterial) cases. Criterial particularism takes it back by accepting the uncontroversial principles that paradigm (or criterial) cases of various moral concepts exemplify. One such moral principle comes from the criterial case of cruelty already discussed: the abusive boyfriend. This case yields the principle Holding a childs head in a toilet and threatening to drown the child if it fails to stop wetting its pants is cruel (as well as That an action involves counts against it). Further such moral principles can be gleaned from other criterial cases, both of cruelty and other moral concepts. However, while criterial particularism admits such principles, the cases from which they are drawn have priority in our understanding of the relevant moral concepts. As Michael Tanner helpfully observes: In both morals and art it is possible to encounter phenomena which provide one with ones concept of greatness or goodness, and which serveas touchstones for judging works of art, or people, or ways of life (among other things). Once the touchstone has been encountered, a principle can no doubt be elicited from it. But the principle is not only validated by the touchstone, but may well be given its sense by it. 29 In other words, rather than learn the meaning of loyalty, kindness, cruelty, etc. simply from moral principles, criterial particularism holds that we only fully grasp the meaning of such moral concepts to the extent that we ever fully grasp their meaning by being exposed to touchstones (or criterial cases) of them. 30 Now notice several more things about the principles whose acceptance distinguishes criterial particularism. First, we are still primarily talking about moral principles qua moral reasons, that is, moral principles that bridge non-moral and pro tanto moral properties. Second, these principles include nary a qualifier. They are strict and absolute. Third, these principles are analytic since they reflect cases

Still, Millgrams proposal cannot be endorsed given how expansively he reads Murdochs claim that the process of substituting better descriptions never ends; there is always more work to be done coming closer to seeing things as they really are. (179) For Millgram, Murdochs claim amounts to deliberative interminability. But deliberative interminability undermines deliberative immediacy, the distinctive advantage of his view. Recall what deliberative immediacy involves. For Murdoch, while it is not easy for someone to describe her own situation such that she can sincerely accept the description and the description does justice to her situation, arriving at such a description means that the action it calls for should follow without any further deliberation. That is, getting the right description of the practical problem at hand puts an end to the question of what one should do. But if the search for improved descriptions never ends, deliberative immediacy proves illusory. For if the search for improved descriptions never ends if we can never be assured that we have got the right description then the question of what to do never gets resolved and no action, only indecision, ever follows. Deliberative interminability trumps deliberative immediacy. Thus, while Millgram rightly thinks Murdoch fruitful for particularists indeed, he deserves commendation for (re-) establishing her relevance this tension in Murdochs view needs to be resolved before her view can fortify particularism. However, another way of thinking about particularism one inspired by Wittgensteins notion of a criterion can resolve this tension and make Murdochs views available and attractive to particularism in a way that Millgrams reading of her cannot. 26 To briefly sum up the argument to this point, we have good reason to limit particularisms rejection of moral principles even if we believe that particularism gets at something important. However, the ways of taking it back that we have considered reflecting different views about what makes particularism distinctive and important both have significant shortcomings. Lance and Littles defeasibility particularism distances moral thought from action without satisfactorily addressing the



that (partially) reveal the meaning of moral concepts. 31 Finally, while admitting moral principles that are both strict and analytic might seem counter-intuitive, especially as an approach to particularism, this conclusion would be too hasty. 32 For criterial particularism only admits moral principles that are utterly uncontroversial mere grammatical reminders of some moral concepts meaning and the admission of such principles, though it conflicts with holism, does not conflict with uncodifiability. 33 That being said, criterial particularisms compatibility with uncodifiability requires more discussion, not least because particularists work with different conceptions of uncodifiability. For Dancy, uncodifiability refers to the ineliminable vulnerability of strict moral principles to the vagaries of future situations, implying that no such principles should be true. 34 Of course, because it accepts the strict moral principles reflected in paradigm cases of various moral concepts, criterial particularism is not compatible with uncodifiability in Dancys sense. However, as Dancy recognizes, uncodifiability in his sense is tantamount to holism about reasons. 35 The key question, then, has two parts: whether, pace Dancy, we can make sense of uncodifiability apart from any commitment to holism and, if so, whether criterial particularism is compatible with uncodifiability in this holism-independent sense. To the first part of our question, John McDowell answers in the affirmative. 36 For McDowell, uncodifiability refers to the impossibility of capturing the meaning of a moral concept from without, that is, from a standpoint external to the special concerns that show themselves in admiration or emulation [or, alternatively, contempt and avoidance] of actions seen as falling under the concept. 37 Since ex hypothesi someone who only understood nonmoral concepts would neither share nor have any appreciation of the special concerns involved in understanding moral concepts, someone who only understood non-moral concepts would count as external in McDowells sense. Thus, as we saw earlier and McDowell recognizes, uncodifiability in his sense amounts to the shapelessness of the non-moral under the moral. 38 But with uncodifiability understood as shapelessness, the question of compatibility as between uncodifiability in this sense and the strict, analytic principles bridging the moral and the non-moral accepted by criterial particularism comes into sharper focus. For the principles accepted by criterial particularism constitute moral standards i.e. sufficient conditions in non-moral terms for the application of some moral concept 39 and a concatenation of the standards for one moral concept might seem to produce a necessary condition in non-moral terms of the moral concepts application. Taken together, then, with the sufficient conditions that its principles

represent, criterial particularism appears to generate something the codification of a moral concepts meaning the possibility of which it is committed to denying. However, the threat of codification here is only apparent. For even when conjoined in a long disjunctive condition, a panoply of sufficient conditions need not yield a necessary condition. Certain kinds of concepts have indeterminacy built-in such that, in addition to paradigm (or criterial) cases of their application, they also admit hard cases. 40 In hard cases, competent users of a concept can (legitimately) disagree as to whether the concept should apply, and this disagreement cannot be resolved by fiat (as it can be in cases of generic vagueness where a line simply needs to be drawn). Moral concepts, unlike mathematical concepts, admit hard cases. Thus, by embracing this essentially contested nature of moral concepts, criterial particularisms commitment, on one hand, to the uncodifiability of moral concepts is consistent with its commitment, on the other hand, to strict analytic sufficiency conditions for the very same concepts.

Criterial particularism, then, takes it back by admitting strict moral principles in the form of various non-moral sufficiency conditions for thick moral concepts consistent with the uncodifiability of such concepts. So what of the metaphysical and epistemological objections that prompt this retrenchment? By admitting strict, rather than merely defeasible, moral principles, criterial particularism can address these objections better than other moderate particularisms, that is, better than Lance and Littles defeasibility particularism and Millgrams Murdochian particularism.

Recall that (unreconstructed) particularism faces a metaphysical objection because not only (i) the moral landscape is structured features such as pain and loyalty loom large while others like shoelace color do not but (ii) without moral principles, we cannot capture this structure, rendering the moral landscape flat. While other moderate particularisms admit defeasible moral principles to address this problem, criterial particularism admits strict moral principles. The latter might seem to provide little advantage over the former. For whether one admits strict or defeasible moral principles, one thereby puts certain non-moral features on the moral map and recognizes that the moral landscape is structured. Still, there are maps and there are (more accurate) maps. Consider two ways that persons might figure on a map of the moral landscape: (1) as absolute barriers to our wills that must be respected come what may or (2) as mere checkpoints that our wills can pass through (and run over) given the right passkey (or circumstances). Arguably, persons should appear on our moral map as absolute barriers, not mere checkpoints. But if this is correct, then only criterial particularism can



capture this crucial element of the moral landscape (i.e. persons as absolute barriers). Merely defeasible moral principles as proposed by other moderate particularisms cannot. (Unreconstructed) particularism also faces an epistemological objection because it cannot account for what we know about certain cases sans first-hand experience. 41 Criterial particularism, like other moderate particularisms, admits some moral principles to extend our moral-epistemic reach. But since the principles that criterial particularism admits are strict, it can satisfactorily address the epistemological objection while other moderate particularisms cannot. Granted, other moderate particularisms improve upon unreconstructed particularism by allowing that we know something about, say, the abusive boyfriend case without having to witness it firsthand. Yet because these views only allow defeasible moral principles, they can only credit us with knowing that what the abusive boyfriend does is defeasibly cruel and unjust. But we know more than this. Even without firsthand experience, we know that holding a childs head in a toilet and threatening to drown the child if it fails to stop wetting its pants is cruel and unjust, period. We do not need to learn about the particular circumstances of such an action to see whether its moral character is neutralized or inverted. Some things that people do are simply cruel and unjust not to mention, wrong-making and nothing we could learn about the embedding circumstances will change this. Thus, a satisfactory response to the epistemological objection involves allowing, sans firsthand experience, that we know various unqualified moral truths. And because doing this requires strict moral principles, not merely defeasible ones, criterial particularism stands above other forms of moderate particularism on epistemological grounds as well.

presumably should not be satisfied with whatever description one may have arrived at. On the other hand, once one has found the right description of ones situation, this finding should lead immediately (i.e. without any further deliberation) to an action called for by this description. But if one can never be assured that one has found the right description of ones situation (as deliberative interminability seems to imply), then the advertised connection between deliberation and action deliberative immediacy, that is would never operate. Thus, two main virtues of Murdochs view seem at odds. However, criterial particularism can resolve this tension because it holds that, for various moral terms, certain descriptions are criterial and these criterial descriptions (or cases) partially determine the meaning of these terms. With this in mind, Murdoch need not allow that descriptions such as cruel or wrong-making can always be superseded (or defused) given the right extenuating circumstances. Rather, Murdoch can be read as holding that, at least in some situations and in some respects (e.g. the abusive boyfriend case), the right description must make use of certain terms (e.g. cruel or wrong-making) on pain of evincing our failure to understand the situation and the terms it calls for. Put another way, Murdoch can grant that, at least for some situations and in some respects, the search for improved descriptions does come to an end. Thus, deliberative interminability need not be understood as interminability with respect to every possible aspect of every possible situation. Situations that involve moral criteria constitute a limit on moral deliberation, a limit on our search for better descriptions. Moreover, when moral deliberation is limited in this way (i.e. when moral criteria are present), deliberative immediacy comes into play. That is to say, when criterial situations require that we use certain terms to describe them and thereby limit moral deliberation as Murdoch conceives it, the advertised connection between deliberation and action will typically show itself, something it cannot do if we can never be properly satisfied with our descriptions. Thus, reading Murdoch in this way resolves the conflict between deliberative interminability and deliberative immediacy. Read in light of criterial particularism, her view can accommodate both insights, highlighting yet another reason why criterial particularism offers the best way of taking it back and moderating particularism.

But the advantages that criterial particularism enjoys over other forms of moderate particularism do not end here. For unlike Millgrams approach to Murdoch, criterial particularism can resolve the tension between deliberative interminability and deliberative immediacy, thereby saving deliberative immediacy and other attractive aspects of Murdochs views on practical reasoning. Recall the problem. On one hand, the search for how best to describe ones situation supposedly never ends. Since better descriptions are always supposed to be possible, one



Austin, J.L. (1962). Sense and Sensibilia. New York, Oxford University Press. Beardsmore, R.W. (1971). Art and Morality. New York, MacMillan. Crisp, Roger (2000). Particularizing Particularism. Moral Particularism. B. Hooker and M. Little. New York, Oxford University Press: 23-47. Dancy, Jonathan (1993). Moral Reasons. Cambridge, MA, Blackwell. Dworkin, Ronald (1977). Taking Rights Seriously. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press. Gallie, W. B. (1956). "Essentially Contested Concepts." Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 56: 167-198. Garfield, Jay (2000). Particularity and Principle: The Structure of Moral Knowledge. Moral Particularism. B. Hooker and M. Little. New York, Oxford University Press: 178-204. Hurley, S. L. (1985). Objectivity and Disagreement. Morality and Objectivity. T. Honderich. Boston, Massachusetts, Routledge & Kegan Paul: 54-97. Lance, Mark and Margaret Little (2006). Particularism and Antitheory. The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory. D. Copp. New York, Oxford University Press: 567-594. Little, Margaret Olivia (2000). Moral Generalities Revisited. Moral Particularism. B. Hooker and M. O. Little. New York, Oxford University Press: 276-304. --- (2001). Wittgensteinian Lessons on Moral Particularism. Slow Cures and Bad Philosophers: Essays on Wittgenstein, Medicine, and Bioethics. C. Elliott. Durham, NC, Duke University Press: 161-180. McDowell, John (1979). "Virtue and Reason." The Monist 62: 331-350. --- (1998). Non-Cognitivism and Rule-Following. Mind, Value, and Reality. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press: 198-218. McKeever, Sean and Michael Ridge (2006). Principled Ethics: Generalism as a Regulative Ideal. New York, Oxford University Press. McNaughton, David (1988). Moral Vision. Cambridge, MA, Blackwell. Millgram, Elijah (2005). Murdoch, Practical Reasoning, and Particularism. Ethics Done Right: Practical Reasoning as a Foundation for Moral Theory. New York, Cambridge University Press: 168-197. Norman, Richard (1997). "Making Sense of Moral Realism." Philosophical Investigations 20(2): 117-135. Tanner, Michael (2003). Ethics and aesthetics are -- ? Art and Morality. J. L. Bermudez and S. Gardner. New York, Routledge: 19-36.




J.L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia (1962) at 2. Austins famous quip arises when he asks: [H]ow seriously this doctrine [i.e the indirect (or sense-data) theory of perception] is intended, just how strictly and literally the philosophers who propound it mean their words to be taken[?] It is, as a matter of fact, not at all easy to answer, for, strange though the doctrine looks, we are sometimes told to take it easyreally it's just what we've all believed all along. (There's the bit where you say it and the bit where you take it back.) Ibid.

For an example of this approach, see Jay Garfield, "Particularity and Principle: The Structure of Moral Knowledge" in Moral Particularism, ed. Hooker and Little (2000), 178-204. Garfield writes: McDowells framework, instead of denying that there is a role for universal moral principles, explains precisely what their role is, and how it is possible for them to play it. Universal moral principles, on this understanding, are ineliminably open textured summaries of our moral knowledge, and as such can be used in explicit moral discussion, including discussion aimed at transforming moral intuitions and behavior of others, and in moral training. Ibid. at 198.

In a footnote to this passage, Garfield adds: [W]e often resort to moral principles in our reasoning and disputation concerning difficult moral decisions. [W]e use principles in order to draw our attention to relevantly similar cases, and to particular dimensions of similarity, not because we believe that those principles have force of their own independent of examples. That is, we use principles in such cases as a bulwark against arbitrariness not by using them as universals under which to subsume the new case, but rather as guides to other cases with which to pair it in our consideration. Ibid., fn. 40 at 199.

Or, as Margaret Little puts it: Just as scientists try to parse out how the forces of physics interact systematically, moral theorists try to capture how moral considerations so identified (such as the requirements of justice and beneficence) are ordered in relation to each other. And again, just as scientists work to unearth laws linking, say, the property of temperature to the property of mean kinetic molecular energy, the job of moral theorists is to identify which natural properties make an action count as just or beneficent.

Margaret Olivia Little, "Wittgensteinian Lessons on Moral Particularism" in Slow Cures and Bad Philosophers: Essays on Wittgenstein, Medicine, and Bioethics, ed. Elliott (2001), 161-180 at 164. It should be recognized that some moral theories (e.g. hedonistic utilitarianism) try to link certain non-moral properties (e.g. pleasure and pain) directly to overall verdicts of right and wrong. Moral principles describing such connections will typically be hybrids, expressing both moral reasons and moral summations. However, not all moral principles connecting non-moral properties to overall verdicts of right and wrong need be summative (e.g. the principle implied by Anscombes absolute prohibition on the judicial execution of innocents).
5 4

Roger Crisp, "Particularizing Particularism" in Moral Particularism, ed. Hooker and Little (2000), 23-47 at 28.

Accordingly, when I speak of moral principles from now on, I should be understood as referring to moral principles qua moral reasons (unless otherwise noted). The properties of counting in favor of or counting against doing some action are what I have referred to as pro tanto moral properties. Talk of moral valences (more common) and moral polarities (less common) typically means the same thing.
8 7

Jonathan Dancy, Moral Reasons (1993) at 104. Ibid at 60.

Little credits McNaughton with this analogy and deploys it in both Margaret Olivia Little, "Moral Generalities Revisited" in Moral Particularism, ed. Hooker and Little (2000), 276-304 at 280 and Little, "Wittgensteinian Lessons on Moral Particularism" at 165. TAGGART WRITING SAMPLE PAGE 9


See also Mark Lance and Margaret Little, "Particularism and Antitheory" in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory, ed. Copp (2006), 567-594 at 579. In my deployment of the art appreciation analogy, however, I use a different example, inspired by the discussion of the painter, Mikhailov, and his work in Anna Karenina. This part of Tolstoys novel was brought to my attention by R.W. Beardsmore, Art and Morality (1971). This requires some qualification as I suggest with use of high in parentheses. Only works of art that are extraordinary in some way render generalizations pointless. By contrast, garden-variety works (e.g. Robert Ludlum novels, B-movie thrillers, etc.) readily support generalizations. See Michael Tanner, "Ethics and aesthetics are -- ?" in Art and Morality, ed. Bermudez and Gardner (2003), 19-36 at 27-28. Sean McKeever and Michael Ridge, Principled Ethics: Generalism as a Regulative Ideal (2006) at 76-77 quoting John McDowell, "Virtue and Reason," The Monist, 62 (1979): 331-350 at 336.
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David McNaughton, Moral Vision (1988) at 190. See also Dancy, Moral Reasons at 63: The primary focus of particularism is the particular case, not surprisingly. This means that ones main duty, in moral judgement, is to look really closely at the case before one. Of course, a comparison with other cases may help us to decide how things are here, just as a long experience of car engines may help us diagnose the fault this time. But this decision or diagnosis is still essentially particular.


Here again is Dancy: [O]ur account of the person on whom we can rely to make sound moral judgements is not very long. Such a person is someone who gets it right case by case. To be so consistently successful, we need to have a broad range of sensitivities, so that no relevant feature escapes us, and we do not mistake its relevance either. But that is all there is to say on the matter.

Dancy, Moral Reasons at 64.


Dancy and McNaughton have even argued that moral principles can be positively harmful by distracting us from what really matters in moral decision-making, namely, the case at hand. Lance and Little, "Particularism and Antitheory" at 582-583.



Little, "Moral Generalities Revisited" at 293. Though discernment per se appears not to worry Little, many philosophers presumably do find talk of moral vision a real stumbling block to particularism. Placing so much weight on moral perception can seem like warmed-over intuitionism, enough to make one see red for those who learned [their] moral philosophy as a cautionary tale beginning with Moores mistakes Richard Norman, "Making Sense of Moral Realism," Philosophical Investigations, 20 (1997): 117-135 at 117. However, like Norman, I maintain that things are not as bad for particularism as all this suggests, the strong emphasis on discernment included.

I owe the abusive boyfriend example to Cora Diamond (in correspondence), though I have modified it slightly from her original version. Because such paradigmatic instances of cruelty are, unfortunately, all too easy to find if one is looking I should perhaps credit Diamond less for the example itself than for helping me see the importance of such paradigmatic examples and how they bear on particularism. The compatibility of defeasible moral principles with holism about reasons depends upon, in Jonathan Dancys words, a matter of tricky detail. Dancy, Moral Reasons at 103. Dancy observes: [P]articularists need to decide [whether] they want to say that a property brings nothing to an action, its contribution being determined only when it is present with others, or whether they only want to say that though there is a default position, a contribution which the property makes other things being equal, that contribution can be reversed or annulled by untoward circumstances. Ibid. Unreconstructed particularism opts for the former alternative that a property [in isolation] brings nothing to an action clearly accepting holism about reasons as illustrated by the art appreciation analogy discussed earlier. Lance and Little, by contrast, opt for the latter: that a property in isolation does bring something to an action, the contribution which the property makes other things being equal. Now the latter alternative might appear inconsistent with holism. For on this view and contrary to what holism about reasons seems to warrant we can, without having any particular situation before us, discuss the moral contribution that certain nonTAGGART WRITING SAMPLE PAGE 10


moral properties make (i.e. their typical or default contribution). Yet Lance and Little remain holists about reasons because, with unreconstructed particularism, they hold that the actual moral contribution some non-moral property makes cannot be determined apart from the particular situation in which it is instantiated. In other words, they agree with unreconstructed particularism that whatever contribution some non-moral property brings to an action on their view, a default contribution reflected in some defeasible moral principle this contribution can be altered by untoward circumstances (i.e. a broader context that can neutralize or even flip the non-moral propertys default valence). Thus, holism about reasons still ultimately obtains. What some non-moral feature brings to an action i.e. its default weight, if any is determined by normal circumstances. For example, the default contribution of causing pain is to count against since, in normal circumstances, causing pain counts against actions that involve it. Elijah Millgram, "Murdoch, Practical Reasoning, and Particularism" in Ethics Done Right: Practical Reasoning as a Foundation for Moral Theory (2005), 168-197. The page numbers in parentheses throughout this section and the next refer to this essay. Plausibly, at least with respect to some of its proponents, Millgram claims that particularism is best understood as a dialectical move, one that he calls the defusing move and according to which the usual moral relevance of non-moral properties can be switched off i.e. defused if embedded in the right context. Ibid at 169. As Millgram points out, holism about reasons is just the view that the defusing move is universally available (i.e. available with respect to all non-moral properties). [i] You might take someone to be aloof and distant, and so be rather standoffish yourself; once you come to see his manner as shy, it will be natural to much more open towards him. (175) [ii] It is redescribing his employer as recklessly and criminally endangering its workers, neighbors and clients that leads the whistleblower to step forward. (175) [iii] It is opening up the question of whether someone is really your friend whether he could really be your friend, given how he had been acting that is the most important part of figuring out how to conduct ones future relations with him. (175) It may be objected that the supposedly crucial task of getting the problem description right involves nothing more than describing the facts of ones situation, something that clearly falls within the domain of theoretical reasoning and, thus, could not be the critical moment in any bit of practical reasoning. However, this objection misses the point that, for Murdoch, [G]etting a description right is not normally a matter of getting the metaphysically right description. (177) Rather, as Millgram helpfully relates: The problem of getting the right description is to see things as they really are, but truth, reality, and their paronyms, are, in Murdoch's way of using them, not to be captured by the idea of accuracy, of a man in a lab coat checking that his measurements correspond to the dimensions of the objects on his workbench. Murdoch, best known as a novelist, thinks of truth by way of novelistic truthfulness: Truth is not a simple or easy concept. Critical terminology imputes falsehood to an artist by using terms such as fantastic, sentimental, self-indulgent, banal, grotesque, tendentious, unclarified, wilfully obscure and so on. (176-177) In other words, when we engage in practical reasoning la Murdoch and try to arrive at an appropriate description of our situation, we not only can but typically should draw upon all of the vocabulary at our disposal, including a full range of evaluative terms. To think otherwise i.e. to impose, across the board, some metaphysically-inspired limit on the concepts that we can deploy in describing our practical problems itself constitutes the adoption of a substantive, evaluative view. Granted, there are times when we ought to limit our resources for describing practical problems to terms less apt to generate controversy. One such occasion might be when people from diverse backgrounds serving on a jury need to reach a consensus. Moreover, while limiting ourselves to non-controversial terms can be and, in common parlance, often is described as sticking to the facts, this does not support a metaphysical distinction between factual and evaluative terms. Non-controversial terms and, thus, what it means to stick to the facts are relative to the intended audience. There is no absolute sense of non-controversial. And again, even in such special circumstances, any limits on our descriptive resources are justified practically or morally (e.g. by the good that would be served if the group reaches a consensus). By contrast, for the kind of across-the-board limit on our descriptive resources that the objection under consideration would impose, there appears to be no plausible practical or moral justification. Or at least, as Millgram says, I do not know what the argument for always [imposing such a limit] would be. (177)
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Neither Millgram, Murdoch, nor I believe the idea that true vision occasions right conduct can be accepted without qualification. The naturally here and the properly and typically in what follows reflect a recognition that if it is conceived too strongly, motivational internalism is not plausible. Since Wittgenstein arguably had a significant, albeit diffuse, influence upon Murdoch, it should not be surprising that the latter can be helpfully read in light of the former. To be fair, apart from reading Murdoch as endorsing holism about reasons clearly not something she explicitly discusses, let alone endorses Millgrams Murdochian particularism is quite attractive. If only the tension in Murdoch between deliberative immediacy and deliberative interminability could be resolved, then Millgrams invocation of Murdoch would be a great boon for particularism. One attraction of reformulating particularism in terms of criterial cases: it resolves this tension. Thus, my approach to taking it back and Millgrams Murdochian approach, suitably modified, can be seen as not only compatible but complementary. Of course, as I suggest above and explain in the main text, my criterial approach requires that particularists give up holism about reasons or, in Millgrams terms, the universal availability of the defusing move. For reasons that I explain below, I think this sacrifice warranted and that uncodifiability, not holism, should define particularism. Whether Millgram would agree, I am unsure. The valid but limited point is that some reasons behave holistically. But holism about reasons the doctrine first introducted by Dancy to the effect that all reasons behave holistically represents an unwarranted generalization of this limited point. Indeed, given all sorts of examples along the lines of the abusive boyfriend case, it seems clearly false.
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Tanner, "Ethics and aesthetics are -- ?" at 33 (emphasis in original).

Most fundamentally, criterial particularism is a view about the meanings of moral terms and how we come to know them. In contrast, both unreconstructed particularism and defeasibility particularism focus on the metaphysics of moral reasons and, with their different stands on these issues, lead to different epistemological consequences. Millgrams Murdochian particularism differs in taking moral deliberation as its point of departure, not moral semantics. This third point reflects an understanding of criterial that is broadly Wittgensteinian. In this sense, criteria reveal a concepts grammar (or meaning) as opposed to mere (logically independent) symptoms. But see McKeever and Ridge, Principled Ethics: Generalism as a Regulative Ideal at 11-12 who hold that taking moral principles to be conceptual truths amounts to constitutive generalism, an extreme form of a view that they claim is diametrically opposed to particularism. However, as McKeever and Ridge discuss, other card-carrying particularists have also claimed certain moral principles as conceptual truths. Ibid. at 107-108. This anomaly suggests that while helpful in many respects, McKeever and Ridges classificatory schema for understanding the various forms of particularism has its limits. Of course, regardless of whether it deserves the name of particularism or generalism, McKeever and Ridge are certainly correct that any view (such as the one being defended here) taking at least some moral principles qua moral reasons to be conceptual truths must face Moores open question argument. As just alluded to in the previous note, there is also the apparent conflict between criterial particularisms admission of strict, analytic principles bridging the moral and the non-moral or the natural, if you want and G.E. Moores famous open question argument. However, I maintain that this conflict is merely apparent given criterial particularisms consistency with uncodifiability.
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Dancy, Moral Reasons at 92. Ibid.


Seeing how he fails to clearly distinguish McDowells sense of uncodifiability from his own, Dancy might want to claim that the former entails the latter and, thus, are not really distinct. Such a claim, however, stands (or falls) with the question of criterial particularisms compatibility with McDowells sense of uncodifiability. If they are compatible, then McDowell and Dancys conceptions of uncodifiability are distinct (given that criterial particularism is not compatible with uncodifiability in Dancys sense). John McDowell, "Non-Cognitivism and Rule-Following" in Mind, Value, and Reality (1998), 198-218 at 201. In the passage that I quote, McDowell is discussing the uncodifiability of a virtue concept, but, mutatis mutandis, the same point applies to concepts of moral vices. Accordingly, to reflect my extension of his point, I include in brackets contempt or avoidance as illustrative of the special concerns (or attitudes) involved in, and appropriate to, concepts of moral vices. TAGGART WRITING SAMPLE PAGE 12


McDowell goes on to clarify what he means by external to (or independent of) the special concerns apropos of some moral concept. Specifically, he does not mean simply not sharing the [relevant] communitys admiration (there need be no difficulty about that) but [not] even embarking on an attempt to make sense of their admiration [or] their special perspective Ibid. at 201-2. Later, when McDowell writes of a sheer outsider in a related context, this is presumably what he means: someone who not only fails to share the special concerns involved in some communitys moral concepts but also, more importantly, fails to even attempt and, ipso facto, possess any understanding of these special concerns. Ibid. at 214. Finally, while McDowell writes about the uncodifiability of both specific moral concepts and entire moral outlooks, criterial particularism takes the uncodifiability of the former to be fundamental. For the brief allusion to this point earlier in this paper, see the discussion of unreconstructed particularisms distinctive metaphysics in Section Two. On the connection between shapelessness and uncodifiability in McDowell, see Ibid. at 202.
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McKeever and Ridge, Principled Ethics: Generalism as a Regulative Ideal at 7. Strictly speaking, as McKeever and Ridge understand them for purposes of their classificatory scheme, moral standards need not be cashed out in non-moral terms.

For the relevant notion of hard cases, see McDowell, "Non-Cognitivism and Rule-Following" at 209-211. See also W. B. Gallie, "Essentially Contested Concepts," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 56 (1956): 167-198 and S. L. Hurley, "Objectivity and Disagreement" in Morality and Objectivity, ed. Honderich (1985), 54-97. Significantly, the notion of hard cases to which I am appealing is different from the notion found in Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously (1977) for, unlike Dworkins view, hard cases in my sense do not admit of only one right answer. Recall that unreconstructed particularism restricts our moral-epistemic powers to moral vision and moral vision requires first-hand experience for its exercise. Therefore, according to unreconstructed particularism, we should not possess any moral knowledge sans first-hand experience.