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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: December 2009

Chapter 6 - Aristotelian Particularism


Preceding chapters have discussed the role of emotions in Aristotelian and Kantian ethics, as well as the role of affiliation. In this chapter and the next, we turn to the notions of practical reason and moral perception. On the face of it and, indeed, on traditional tellings, our two accounts differ considerably on this subject. In Aristotelian ethics there is explicit emphasis on deliberating about the particulars of a case, with practical wisdom itself sometimes taking the form of perception. We are reminded regularly by Aristotle of the limitations of rules and procedures, and of the shortfalls of misplaced rigor. We must seek only so much precision as is appropriate for the subject matter. Practical wisdom is not scientific understanding (epistemē), Aristotle insists. Rather, it is a conjecturing and aiming (stochazomai) at the changing particulars. We work with summary rules, at best – rules of thumbs that hold only for the most part. Along with a focus on the particulars, there is also an emphasis on the actualized achievements of virtue – on moral choice as it is realized in actual action and an embodied standard of practical reason captured by the example of the practically wise person. On the Aristotelian view, to learn about virtue and moral reasoning we need to turn to a concrete paradigm. There is no algorithm we can appeal to for general guidance, no procedure that formalizes our practice.