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Neither Generalism nor Particularism: Ethical Correctness is Located in General Ethical Theories

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In this article I shall be supporting two main claims. The first is that the essence of the difference between particularism and generalism lies in where they locate ethical correctness. The second is that generalism, although to be preferred to particularism, is not the final resting place for ethical correctness. Ultimately, ethical correctness resides in ethical theories that provide the rationale for generalism. Particularism is presented as a theory that allows attention to be paid to specific cases and shows a sensitivity to the particular case. Generalism, with its appeal to moral principles, is supposed to lack this sensitivity to specific cases. I argue that although this might be true of subsumptive generalism, it is not true of what I call judgmental generalism. This latter type of generalism retains an appeal to moral principles whilerequiringsensitivity to the particular case. I consider Kantian ethics as an example of this sort of generalism. Furthermore, I support the claim that this judgmental generalism is to be preferred to particularism. I argue against a prominent form of particularism, put forward by Jonathan Dancy, based on an appeal to the holism of reasons. This doctrine involves the claim that the value of a complex whole is not necessarily identical with the value of its parts. I show that Dancy’s discussion of this involves inconsistencies and also appears to incorporate subsumptive generalism. This statement of particularism is ultimately incoherent.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Humanities, de Havilland Campus, University of Hertfordshire, College Lane, Hatfield AL10 9AB, UK, Email:


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