Ethical Perspectives

September 2016

The Rule-Following Considerations and the Case for Moral Particularism. A Critical Examination

  • Daniel Sharp


According to moral generalism, the possibility of moral thought and action depends on moral principles, while according to moral particularism moral thought and action do not so depend. This article assesses a common argument marshalled in favour of particularism, which draws on Wittgenstein’s rule-following considerations, as developed in John McDowell’s Virtue and Reason. It argues, contra McDowell, that the rule-following considerations do not support particularism because Wittgenstein’s remarks leave room for a moderate form of generalism. The paper begins by distinguishing between two kinds of particularism – standards particularism and guidance particularism – both found in McDowell’s thought. After offering an interpretation of the rule-following considerations, it concludes that Wittgenstein’s discussion supports neither view. The thought that they do is based on a tacit conflation of a philosophically problematic conception of rule-governedness and guidance, which Wittgenstein criticizes, with an ordinary conception, which Wittgenstein does not. The article defends this conclusion by developing a generalist account of guidance and standards, and showing that this view is compatible with the lessons of Wittgenstein’s discussion.

 Page : 411 - 443

To  Ethical Perspectives 3/2016