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Moral particularism is the view that there are no moral principles and that moral judgement can be found only as one decides particular cases, either real or imagined. This stands in stark contrast to other prominent moral theories, such as deontology or utilitarianism. In the former, it is asserted that people have a set of duties (that are to be considered or respected); in the latter, people are to respect the happiness or the preferences of others in their actions. Particularism, to the contrary, asserts that there are no overriding principles that are applicable in every case, or that can be abstracted to apply to every case.
According to particularism, most notably defended by Jonathan Dancy, moral knowledge should be understood as knowledge of moral rules of thumb, which are not principles, and of particular solutions, which can be used by analogy in new cases. It ultimately requires that one will be in good faith upon each particular circumstance as opposed to falling under the influence of narcissism.
The term "particularism" was coined to designate this position by R. M. Hare, in 1963 (Freedom and Reason, Oxford: Clarendon, p. 18).
A largely coincident view about law was defended by Castanheira Neves in his 1967 major work.
To summarize that view, as Justice Steven Breyer, of the United States Supreme Court, said in reference to bright-line rules, "no single set of legal rules can capture the ever changing complexity of human life."
- Hooker B, Little MO (eds.) (2001) Moral particularism. OUP
- Dancy, Jonathan (2004). Ethics without principles, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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