Unprincipled moral learning : Dewey's pragmatism and Dancy's particularism.




Jackson, Nathan E.

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This dissertation draws on resources in John Dewey's work to respond to a lacuna in Jonathan Dancy's moral particularism. Dancy maintains that there are few, if any, true universal moral principles, and that moral reasoning and judgment do not depend upon them. He holds that moral justification is narrative, and affirms a view of moral competence where an individual is able to track a situation’s salient features in their particular relationships, what he calls a situation’s "shape." However, it is unclear how moral education is possible on a particularist framework, and I argue in chapter two that the resources Dancy offers here are inadequate. Moreover, since different situations will contain different salient features and exhibit different shapes, Dancy's particularism faces a problem regarding the use of imaginary cases in moral education and reasoning. Since the same feature can be salient in different ways from one situation to another, the best cases can do is to yield "reminders" of the importance that a feature can have. In response, I argue that John Dewey's work on habits, tradition, and imagination can provide avenues of response for particularism. In chapter 3, I respond to the criticism that Dancy and Dewey's views are incompatible, since Dewey eschews claims to objectivity. I show that Dancy's conception of objectivity, "Hegelian objectivity," shares fundamental commitments with Dewey's conceptions of inquiry and criticism. Afterwards, in chapter 4, I argue that Dewey can explain the possibility of particularist moral education as enculturation into a "culture of evaluation" in terms of habituation in traditions. For Dewey, habits are projective demands for activity that organize experienced elements, or features of situations. By performing conjoint activities in a social environment, one forms habits that explain the salience of certain features. Finally, in chapter 5, I argue that Dewey's work on imagination in his aesthetic work helps answer the challenge regarding cases. In interacting with a case, one is not necessarily looking for new properties. Instead, cases can alter the background understanding one brings to a situation. Cases can argue for the potential of certain narrative elements, like particular metaphors, to enable coherent descriptions of situations.



John Dewey., Jonathan Dancy., Morals., Ethics.