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Can we be particularists about environmental ethics? : assessing the theory of moral particularism and its practical application in applied environmental ethics.

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Moral judgments have tended to be made through the application of certain moral principles and it seems we think we need principles in order to make sound moral judgments. However, the theory of moral particularism, as put forward by Jonathan Dancy (2004), calls this into question and challenges the traditional principled approaches to moral reasoning. This challenge naturally began a debate between those who adhere to principled accounts of moral rationality, and those who advocate a particularist approach. The aim of this thesis is thus to assess the theory of moral particularism as recently put forward by Jonathan Dancy. In pursuing this project I initially set up a survey of the field of environmental ethics within which to explore traditional approaches to applied ethics. This survey suggests that applied ethical problems have traditionally been solved using various principled approaches and if we are inclined to take the particularist challenge seriously, this suggests a philosophical conundrum. On the one hand, increasingly important and pressing applied environmental ethical concerns suggest there is a practical need for ethical principles, whilst on the other hand, the particularist claim is that we do not need principles in order to make sound moral judgments. The survey of environmental ethics then establishes the first side of the philosophical conundrum. I then move to explore the second side of the conundrum; the theory of moral particularism, looking at why the challenge it presents to traditional principled approaches needs to be taken seriously. I then move to explore theoretical challenges to moral particularism; this is done to establish the current state of the theoretical debate between the particularist and the generalist. I conclude from this that the theoretical debate between the two has currently reached a stalemate; it is, at present, simply not clear which account is correct. As the main goal of this study is to evaluate particularism, this apparent stalemate led me to explore certain practical challenges to particularist theory as a means of advancing the debate. As particularism is a theory that challenges our traditional conception of how to make moral judgments, there will be important implications for applied ethics if particularism turns out to be correct, and 1 thus finally apply particularism to a practical environmental problem in order to assess the validity of practical challenges to particularism. In order to do this, a particularist ethic is applied to the question of whether or not to allow mining in Kakadu National Park in Australia. This provides a means of seeing what an applied particularist ethic could look like, as well as providing something of an answer to the practical challenge to particularism and achieving the goal of evaluating it within the applied context of environmental ethics.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2008.


Environmental ethics., Ecology--Philosophy., Normativity (Ethics), Principle (Philosophy), Ethics., Values., Individuation (Philosophy), Practical reason., Theses--Philosophy.