Why You Shouldn’t Be A Person Of Principle

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Philosophy Now
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Why You Shouldn’t Be A Person Of Principle

Post by Philosophy Now »

Ramsey McNabb introduces moral particularism.

https://philosophynow.org/issues/60/Why ... _Principle
tbieter
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Re: Why You Shouldn’t Be A Person Of Principle

Post by tbieter »

Philosophy Now wrote:Ramsey McNabb introduces moral particularism.

https://philosophynow.org/issues/60/Why ... _Principle
"Moral philosophy for the most part has historically been an attempt to find the right principles by which we should live our lives. Whether it is a set of divinely inspired commandments, Mill’s principle of utility, Kant’s categorical imperative, or some other principle(s), determining the proper course of action in any given situation has been thought to require little more than deducing from the right set of universal principles, and moral philosophy has, for the most part, been a search for that perfect set of principles. But I believe that moral judgement is not a matter of applying some overarching universal moral principles. In my view, it is quite the opposite. I propose instead that the moral knowledge we have is founded on particular cases, and that the principles we have are mere generalizations from those cases. Thus, our fourth option when faced with exceptional moral cases is: Allow our particular moral judgements to simply override our principles, thereby invalidating those principles.

This approach lands me among those who propose a theory known as moral particularism. The moral particularist holds that the traditional approach to ethical theory is not the best. Rather than deducing the right action from some principle or set of principles, the particularist holds that moral judgement can get along just fine without any dependence on principles."
...
Imagine that you see a young girl crash her bicycle. She is knocked unconscious, and lying on a set of railway tracks only a dozen steps or so from you. In the distance, you see a train approaching, although it’s still thirty seconds from reaching the girl. What goes through your mind? Do you do a quick mental survey of your moral principles and attempt to apply them to the situation so that you can deduce what the right thing to do might be? Do you compare your two options – saving her and watching her die – and then apply the categorical imperative or the principle of utility to see which action your principle recommends? Or does it occur to you immediately that you should help her, without any application of principles? The moral particularist thinks that you do not need to apply a moral principle to conclude that you should help her. For the particularist, moral knowledge starts in clear-cut cases like this. If you know anything at all with regard to morality, you certainly know you ought to help the girl. You know you should help her even if you do not know any greater universal principles like the categorical imperative or the principle of utility.

W.H. Gass makes a similar point about clear cases: “When we try to explain why they are instances of good or bad, of right or wrong, we sound comic, as anyone does who gives elaborate reasons for the obvious, especially when these reasons are so shamefaced before reality, so miserably beside the point.” (W.H. Gass, ‘The Case of the Obliging Stranger’, The Philosophical Review, Vol. 66, No.2, 1957, p.196.) If the particularist is pressed to explain why you should help the young girl on the railway tracks, then rather than appealing to some overarching impersonal principle, the particularist will reply with particular reasons, for example: “The girl will die if you do nothing,” or “Because she’s about to get crushed,” or “Her family will be devastated,” or “Wouldn’t you want to be saved if you were in her shoes?”
In substance, this latter reason states a version of the Golden Rule! The reason for action IS A PRINCIPLE.
Conclusion

There is certainly much more to be said about moral particularism, both for it and against it, and this discussion has barely scratched the surface. I don’t expect that every reader will immediately agree that moral principles are unnecessary. That would be unrealistic, since moral philosophy itself is (still) often seen as the search for the right set of universal principles. I do, however, hope I have cast doubt on the universalist position, and have offered particularism as a theoretical competitor. We should at least not just assume that moral thought is a top-down affair, in which proper moral action is deduced from higher moral principles. We should at least acknowledge and consider the possibility that it might be the other way around – that moral thought is a bottom-up affair, in which the building blocks of moral knowledge are the clear particular moral cases, and that moral principles are inductive derivations from those cases. There are many important ongoing battles which characterize what philosophy is all about, for example empiricism vs. rationalism, freedom vs. determinism, and Cartesian dualism vs. eliminative materialism. I suggest that the moral particularism vs. moral universalism debate should take its rightful place as one of philosophy’s greatest battles.

© Ramsey McNabb 2007

Ramsey McNabb recently received his PhD from York University. His dissertation, Induction and Moral Particularism: A Bottom-Up Approach to Moral Thought defends a version of moral particularism, arguing that moral principles are inductive generalizations.

viewtopic.php?f=7&t=14071 - See My thread "Doing the right thing"

The author really should have mentioned Professor Toulmin and the history of casuistry. I recommend Toulmin's books on reasoning.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_To ... _casuistry
http://www.amazon.com/Abuse-Casuistry-H ... merReviews

Without defining the word "principle", the article actually raises the question: CAN WE ENGAGE IN MORAL REASONING WITHOUT USING PRINCIPLES?

What do you think?
frattaro
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Re: Why You Shouldn’t Be A Person Of Principle

Post by frattaro »

Morality is an optimization problem. Conflicts arise when trying to optimize for more than one thing. Pick one and only one and you'll have a completely consistent system of morality. If you disagree with some outcomes, you've picked the wrong one.

With there being no universal morality provable, we need a functional one. Optimizing for individual freedom of choice looks like a solid candidate, functions well in a majority of situations. Choosing is good, restricting choice is bad. Meaning fraud and coercion are evils.

Where does this break down? Children. They can't consent to care before they can comprehend the concept, so they are coerced into being cared for. In the current state of things, we draw a line -- age 18. More realistically, it isn't a Boolean trait, but rather the child gradually gains independence over time.

Some other areas are impulse buying, addiction, manipulation via big data, the human brain's disability in probability comprehension (buying lottery tickets). In most cases, people choose what is best for themselves but in these cases they freely make decisions that are a detriment to their wellbeing rather than an improvement.

So in the market failures of a moral system, we need a fallback principle. As far as children go, optimizing for future opportunity would be decent. Coercing a tooth-brushing now enhances their opportunity to spend their resources later on what they choose rather than dentistry.

In regards to the other areas, education/warnings/prompts would be helpful. If every time someone bought a lottery ticket they were required to acknowledge the odds of winning are far less than getting struck by lightning and if they had saved the money they spend on the lottery they would have X dollars, it would at least clear the situation of wrongdoing vagueries.
Nick_A
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Re: Why You Shouldn’t Be A Person Of Principle

Post by Nick_A »

Hi Thieter
There is certainly much more to be said about moral particularism, both for it and against it, and this discussion has barely scratched the surface. I don’t expect that every reader will immediately agree that moral principles are unnecessary. That would be unrealistic, since moral philosophy itself is (still) often seen as the search for the right set of universal principles. I do, however, hope I have cast doubt on the universalist position, and have offered particularism as a theoretical competitor. We should at least not just assume that moral thought is a top-down affair, in which proper moral action is deduced from higher moral principles. We should at least acknowledge and consider the possibility that it might be the other way around – that moral thought is a bottom-up affair, in which the building blocks of moral knowledge are the clear particular moral cases, and that moral principles are inductive derivations from those cases. There are many important ongoing battles which characterize what philosophy is all about, for example empiricism vs. rationalism, freedom vs. determinism, and Cartesian dualism vs. eliminative materialism. I suggest that the moral particularism vs. moral universalism debate should take its rightful place as one of philosophy’s greatest battles.
This is an important question and worth discussing. First I'd like to make a distinction between learned morality which relies on inductive reason And conscience which is soul knowledge or what Plato called anamnesis which can be "remembered" with the help of deductive reason.

Subjective Indoctrinated morality as opposed to the objective experience of conscience remembered by the soul. They shouldn't be confused and how they are related explains a lot of why subjective morality goes wrong.
Gary Childress
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Re: Why You Shouldn’t Be A Person Of Principle

Post by Gary Childress »

I wonder if the three exceptions mentioned in the article are not indicative of a "higher" principle, one having to do with the sanctity of human life or something along those lines. Perhaps it's like Asimov's three laws of robotics whereby the first principle overrides the following ones. In the end, I think most lower principles do break down when they conflict with other principles. And in the three exceptions given, they all seem to revolve around the existential welfare of a person outweighing other principles such as Kant's Categorical Imperative or "Thou shalt not steal" etc.
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