Moral Particularism and Methods in Ethics, Zurich, 14th June 2013

A workshop on moral particularism at the University of Zurich. Schedule here.

‘Why Practical Wisdom Cannot Be Principled’

Alan Thomas

There are many aspects of intelligent action in finite and limited reasoners such as ourselves that are best explained by appeal to epistemic virtue. Adam Morton (Bounded Thinking, OUP, 2012) has convincingly made the case that part of intelligence is the self-management of our own limitations. Central aspects of this self-management not only are not, but could not, be regulated by principles. Morton’s account of the epistemic virtue of prudent self-management is compared to Julia Annas’s conception of the expression of intelligence in virtue to make the case that a cognitivist account of virtue necessarily involves the rejection of any conception of practical wisdom as principled (Annas, Intelligent Virtue,  OUP, 2011). The paper concludes by examining the generalist response that while the true moral principles require a theory of relevance, that theory need not be principled (so the generalist can accept all of the foregoing with equanimity). Not even that response gets the generalist off the hook: a conception of the principles grounding evaluative standards as limited in number, compact and indeterminate invites a far wider range of errors in implementation than a particularist conception of practical reasoning as the direct application of intelligence to situations.

Workshop with Richard Moran June 11, 2013


A one day workshop at Tilburg University on the philosophy of Richard Moran, hosted by the Ethics Research Stream of TiLPS.

Venue: Tias-Nimbas Business School Room 005

09:45 Registration

10:00 – 10:30 Machteld Geuskens and Alan Thomas (Tilburg) ‘Testimony, Trust and Second Personal Reasons’

10:30 – 10:45 Discussion of Paper 1

10:45 – 11:00 Coffee

11:00 – 11:30 Sophie Djigo (CURAPP-ESS)  ‘Belief as cognitive and practical commitment’

11:30 – 11:45 Discussion of Paper 2

11:45 – 12:15 Filip Buekens (Tilburg) ‘Testimony’

12:15 – 12:30 Discussion of Paper 3

12:30 – 2:00 Lunch, Tilbury’s Restaurant

2:00 – 2:30 Edward Harcourt (Oxford University) ‘Happenings Outside the Moral Self’

2:30 – 2:45 Discussion of Paper 4

2:45 – 3:15 Kathryn Brown (Tilburg) ‘Moran on Scepticism: Problems of Realism in Nineteenth Century Painting’

3:15 – 3:30 Discussion of Paper 5

3:30 – 3:45 Coffee

3:45 – 4:15 Valerie Aucouturier (Brussels Free University) ‘Authority and Self-knowledge’

4:15 – 4:30 Discussion of Paper 6

4:30 – 5:30 Keynote Address: Richard Moran (Harvard)

5:30 – 5:45 Closing Remarks

6:30 Conference Dinner, Meesters Restaurant

The workshop is open to all academic staff and postgraduate students: there will be a registration fee of 20 euros for the day for those in full time employment, 10 euros for students and the unwaged. The registration fee is payable in cash on the day. Registration will cover tea/coffee, but not lunch or dinner (there are several catering venues on campus). Please e-mail the workshop organiser Alan Thomas if you plan to attend at a.thomas [@]

April 17th Wednesday 16:45 – 18:30 DZ152 Alan Thomas (Tilburg)

‘McDowell on Transcendental Arguments, Scepticism and Error Theory’


ImageJohn McDowell has recently argued that his earlier attempt therapeutically to dissolve the challenge from scepticism needs revision. We can, instead, go sufficiently deeply into the sceptic’s motivations to identify assumptions that she makes that offer the basis for a transcendental argument that undermines radical scepticism about our knowledge of the external world. In this new strategy McDowell’s disjunctivism (non-conjunctivism) now plays a local and tactical role. This paper examines this change of strategy and argues that the only puzzle about McDowell’s position is the “modesty” he claims for his results. An analogy is described between McDowell’s case against the sceptic and one response to an error theory about ethics. A general commitment to interpretationism shows that the interpretation of all ethical thought and talk as truth-apt, but globally false, is unstable. Similarly, the sceptic’s description of all our perceptual states as apt to be perceptual knowledge, but globally false, is unstable. Scepticism arises from the original description of our epistemic situation as a predicament; as resting on a failure to appreciate that there is a class of mental states for which the idea of “having the world in view” is constitutive of the class.

March 27th Wednesday 16:45 – 18:30 DZ119 John van Houdt (Tilburg)

‘A Syntax of Action: Rationality and Fichte’s Aufforderung