New Essay: Zhuangzi and Particularism

I've been intrigued for years by the possibility that a Zhuangist stance toward dao might overlap considerably with the standpoint of contemporary moral particularism, primarily as defended in the work of Jonathan Dancy. This year I finally had a chance to look into this issue carefully, reading up on Dancy's work and that of his critics as well as taking a closer look at Zhuangzi passages that touch on the relation between contextual justification and general norms. I've written up my thoughts in a contribution to the 50th anniversary issue of the Journal of Chinese Philosophy, on "Practical Philosophy—East and West," edited by Michael Forster, Tze-wan Kwan, and Guido Kreis.

I found that the views I—and I suspect many readers—initially found attractive in particularism are actually better characterized as contextualist and pluralist, not particularist. The distinctive claim of particularism—that generalization plays no role in moral thought and justification—seems to me deeply misguided, grounded in a misunderstanding of how general norms work. At the same time, I concluded that although a number of Zhuangzi passages clearly endorse contextualism and pluralism, there are no good grounds for attributing particularism to them. Indeed, I suggest that discussions in the Zhuangzi can actually help us better understand the role of general norms in guiding and justifying action.

An initial draft of the essay is here: "Zhuangzi and Particularism."