Generality and Moral Justification

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56 (1):79-96 (1996)
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In recent years it has become fashionable to criticize a family of approaches to moral thinking, loosely collected under the heading, “moral theory.” Unfortunately, these criticisms have often lacked a sharp focus. To do better, we will have to sort out the various elements of moral theory, and carefully consider them one at a time. One element which has heretofore received too little attention is generality. Demands for generality have become so central to the way many philosophers do ethics that we hardly notice them. Yet they sometimes exert a powerful influence on our thinking, pressing us to treat more general moral positions, such as consequentialism, as superior to more specific ones, like those which incorporate agent-centered restrictions or prerogatives. Although few moral philosophers accept these demands for generality explicitly, and no one has articulated them very clearly, many are in their grip to some significant degree.



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Don Loeb
University of Vermont

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