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Pragmatism and the Behavior of Moral Reasons: Towards a Moderate Holism

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Nate Jackson
Baylor University
United States

Abstract:
The pragmatist engagement with moral particularism tends to surround questions regarding the rejection of the possibility of true moral principles. But Jonathan Dancy, the leading advocate of particularism, maintains that the rejection of principles follows from his thesis regarding the behavior of reasons, holism. Holism is the thesis that a feature can serve as a reason for acting in one situation without serving as such a reason in another situation. I argue that pragmatist commitments regarding the behavior of reasons amount to a type of holism, but a holism distinct from that underlying moral particularism. I look to Dewey’s conception of principles to argue that principles do serve as moral reasons on the pragmatist picture, and their serving as reasons commits the pragmatist to what I call a moderate holism. In articulating these commitments, pragmatists are in a position to engage moral particularism at its foundations.

 

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