Particularism and the contingent a priori

Acta Analytica 21 (2):3-11 (2006)
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Abstract

Particularism renders the options for a sound moral epistemology few and the prospects dim. One leading approach treats basic knowledge of particular cases as derivable from an a priori moral principle and a posteriori knowledge of the contingent non-moral facts to which the principle applies. Particularists must forgo this approach because it requires principles. Yet a purely a posteriori moral epistemology is also implausible, especially when combined with particularism. Particularists such as Jonathan Dancy are thus led to the view that our basic moral knowledge is a priori knowledge of contingent moral facts. We argue that this epistemology is unsound. While some cases of a priori knowledge of (even deeply) contingent facts may be defensible, they are not sufficient for particularist purposes. Moreover, neither Dancy’s appeal to the distinction between positive and negative dependence nor his discussion of intuitive examples provides sufficient support for this epistemology.

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Michael Ridge
University of Edinburgh
Sean McKeever
Davidson College

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