How do Moral Principles Figure in Moral Judgement? A Wittgensteinian Contribution to the Particularism Debate

Matthias Kiesselbach


This essay argues that Wittgenstein's mature conception of language contains all the
resources needed to answer a central question of moral philosophy: how can we hold on
to moral principles in the face of the seeming impossibility to formulate a moral
principle which is invulnerable to particularistic counter-examples? The essay argues
that Wittgenstein's conception of language includes a plausible answer to an
analogous threat to grammatical norms. The idea is that although all judgement is a
matter of following grammatical norms, some judgements necessarily involve revisions
of grammar. This happens when a language game is confronted with novel practical
demands to which current grammar is unsuited. In these situations of grammatical
tension, a judgement cannot be based on rules alone. Since nothing stands in the way
to interpreting moral principles as propositions of grammar, Wittgenstein's reaction
to the threat against grammatical norms serves as an answer to the ethical


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; ethics; moral particularism; moral principle; linguistic development; linguistic evolution; moral judgment

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