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Peter S Borkowski

Dena Hurst

Sean Jasso


Geoffrey Klempner

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P H I L O S O P H Y   F O R   B U S I N E S S           ISSN 2043-0736

Issue number 7
2nd May 2004


I. Pathways Scholarship Program: call for sponsors

II. 'An Ancient Method for Business Ethics?' by Eric Litwack

III. 'Ethics in the Face of Uncertainty: judgement not rules' by Michael Luntley



Today's issue includes a call for sponsors for the Pathways scholarship
program, together with an announcement of the first two Pathways scholars.

Blackwell publishers are offering a free online trial of their journal Business
Ethics: A European Review. To accompany the offer, Blackwell kindly allowed us
to reproduce Michael Luntley's article on 'Ethics in the face of uncertainty'.

Eric Litwack's article, on the revival of the ancient art of casuistry,
provides a relatively easy introduction to some of the questions raised in
Michael Luntley's challenging essay.

Geoffrey Klempner



We are proud to announce the award of the first two Pathways scholarships,
worth 240 GBP each, to Azim Zahir, a translator in the Government Offices in
the Maldives, and Tim Kellebrew, a counsellor from Portland Oregon, USA.

More details about the awards to Azim Zahir and Tim Kellebrew can be found in
today's issue of Philosophy Pathways Issue (83) archived at

The ISFP White Form for scholarship applications can be found at Applicants are asked to provide
information about their financial circumstances and also write a 400 word

We are especially keen to attract students from countries which have a poor
exchange rate with the British Pound, for example Africa, South America and the
Indian sub-continent.

We welcome sponsorship for the Pathways Scholarship program from businesses,
companies or corporations. Sponsors will be listed, with logo and web site
link, on the ISFP 'Friends and Sponsors' page at

This is a great opportunity to promote and enhance your company image, by
associating your company with the values of business ethics and practical
philosophy. For more details, please email the editor, Geoffrey Klempner at

Geoffrey Klempner



In thinking about ethics, one of the most important questions that can be asked
is 'What will be my general method for grappling with problems?' Many
alternatives vie for the endorsement of ethicists and the regular use of
individuals, including business people. There are many methods for thinking
about ethical problems, known as 'decision procedures', and here are two of the
main ones.

The first, known as duty-based or deontological ethics, is inspired by
religious tradition, as well as the thought of Immanuel Kant, an 18th century
philosopher. Kant's moral system stresses the importance of universal
principles of duty. These principles are to be checked against the supreme
moral decision procedure, known as the 'categorical imperative'. It holds that
in all morally significant situations, we ought only to act in such a way that
we could will our action to be universal. Part of its essence is captured in
the popular question: 'what if everyone did that?' For example, in attempting
to decide whether or not to do business with a shady supplier, a business
person would, on this model, ask him or herself: 'Can I consistently will that
all purchasers do as I am doing?' If the answer is no, then it should be clear
that there is something wrong with the option.

Another approach, utilitarianism, stems from 19th century utilitarian
philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. It instructs us to
maximize the ratio of goodness over evil by always focusing on the probable
effects of our actions. So, if we make use of principles at all, they should be
based on the effects that they're likely to bring about over time. We have to
calculate how to bring about the best possible consequences. This approach has
been especially attractive to economists, who have used it in order to try to
assess mathematically the overall satisfaction of consumers, among other
projects. So, to return to our present example, dealing with a shady supplier
may or may not be desirable, depending upon how the general economy and society
would be affected by our action. In more sophisticated forms of utilitarianism,
the consequences of an action are not calculated from individual acts, but from
flexible rules based on what is thought to maximize the measurable general good.
A point to bear in mind: the main justification for utilitarianism, isn't duty,
but bringing about the best possible effects for society.

In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of attention paid to an
ancient method, that of casuistry. Philosophers such as Stephen Toulmin have
attempted to revive this tradition, which until quite recently was identified
with a branch of Catholic philosophy. Since the great French theologian and
mathematician, Blaise Pascal criticized it sharply in the 17th century,
casuistry has suffered from an unjustly negative reputation. Although no small
part of Pascal's passionate opposition to casuistry was motivated by his
opposition to the Jesuits, who made a rather specific use of the method, this
is a case of a bad label regrettably sticking across the board.

In casuistry, people reasoning morally principles as rules of thumb, and strive
to apply them correctly in given situations. This is because there is here a
recognition that abstract and absolute principles may prove unhelpful in
concrete situations. So we have to strive for what might be termed the spirit
rather than the letter of the law. To take our particular case once more, the
business person ought to have principles acquired in learning to be an ethical
person, and should view them as clear and useful guidelines. But he or she will
also have to consider the specificities of the situation at hand; for example:
will insignificant short-term dealings with shady suppliers provide enough
evidence in order to get them to eventually clean up their acts? Principles are
retained here, but they are guidelines rather than obligations written in stone.
The casuist also claims that we must take into consideration probable
consequences in deciding what to do, but not to the point of abandoning general
rules, or attempting to analyse consequences scientifically.

In their important 1988 book, The Abuse of Casuistry, philosopher Stephen
Toulmin and bioethicist Albert Jonsen established a new form of casuistry
sometimes known as 'neo-casuistry'. Unlike what was often the case with the
earlier form of the method, which might be termed 'classical casuistry',
neo-casuistry does not have a particular religious tradition as its working
background. It begins with the general ethical values of our society, such as
respect for personal autonomy, valuing human life, and the need to limit the
power of organizations. So, to return to our area of discussion, an employee of
a firm should always be understood as reasoning in a particular case. That
doesn't mean that anything goes; it is simply a recognition that human beings
do not reason about ethics formulaically, like following an algorithm in
mathematics. In The Context of Casusitry, Jonsen has defined cases as 'the
confluence of persons, places, times and things about which arguments must be
made and decisions taken'.

So, to take the controversial topic of whistle-blowing, an employee of a firm
might find him or herself in a situation in which there is clear and
intentional wrong-doing on an employer's part, and a choice between
denunciation on the one hand, or complicity or even participation in
wrong-doing on the other. On the casuistical model, the boundaries of the case
should be set by the individual asking questions along the following lines:
'Who is primarily responsible?', 'Just how serious are the possible effects?',
'Where should my primary duty be?', 'Have I exhausted all possibilities before
going public with this?'.

Once broadly set, the case can be approached as a particular context, in which
rules of thumb are likely to be helpful, but not the beginning and end of all
discussion. To pursue the example at hand, if it should turn out that the known
effects of a chemical company's dumping lead into a river near its plant are
very likely to be grave, that there is strong evidence of executive
foreknowledge, and that raising the matter with internal committees has gotten
nowhere, then one's duty as a citizen may very well require going outside of
the firm in order to protect the public good and attain justice. This is an
example of a paradigm case, one whose clarity should serve as an ideal example
of when a particular course of action would be justified. Other, similar, cases
should be measured against it. The closer they come to it, the more likely that
the same course of action would be justified.

Business people are continually faced with such difficult and complex
decisions. Other questions that might arise include: 'Are we ever justified in
doing business with repressive regimes?', 'Can we run this ad, in spite of
major concerns?', and 'Was that actually office harassment?'. The value of
casuistry is that it corresponds to the way that almost all people actually
live their moral lives, in trying to strike a reasonable balance between
principle and effects, between particular situations and long-term values. As
such, it is both a highly practical and effective method for business ethics.

(c) Eric B. Litwack 2004


Eric B. Litwack, Ph.D. is a philosopher and business ethicist. He is an
associate of EthicScan Canada Ltd. and Pental Consulting. In September he will
be joining the the faculty of Queen's University at Kingston's International
Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, England.



     Business Ethics: European Review - free online trial

     Lorna James writes:
     "At the end of 2003, Jane Collier of the Judge Institute
     of Management Studies stepped down from the editorship of
     Business Ethics: A European Review. Now managed by Chris
     Cowton, this journal provides a forum for business people
     and academics to exchange experiences of ethical
     challenges, to debate perspectives on ethical issues, and
     to generate insights and new ways of thinking about the
     ethical dimensions of national and global business. As an
     introduction to the journal I am delighted to present the
     following article. If you would like to read more you can
     apply for a free online trial of the full journal content,
     simply email for
     a password."

Ethics in the Face of Uncertainty: Judgement not Rules
Michael Luntley, University of Warwick

I want to suggest that our attitude to uncertainty betrays some basic options
in ethical theory. In particular, we can use our attitude to uncertainty to
interrogate the role of judgement, as opposed to rules, in ethical decision
making. Business provides us with highly complex environments in which the
outcomes of our actions are often ineliminably uncertain. It is tempting to
think that the role of business ethics is to provide the normative theories
that will bring order to this complexity by providing the rules the application
of which will erase uncertainty. To think like this is to think of the business
ethicist as a consultant with a special repertoire of rules that, alongside the
financial, HR, legal and other specialists will bring the uncertainty of the
business environment into some kind of tractable order. I think this is an
unrealistic conception of the role of business ethics. I want to highlight the
conception in which the concept of judgement is central to ethical decision
making by distinguishing two opposing orientations to uncertainty.


Let me distinguish two different orientations to uncertainty. I call them the
objectivist orientation and the realistic orientation.[1] The objectivist
orientation treats uncertainty as a function of our ignorance. The leading
thought for the objectivist is that uncertainty occurs because we do not know
enough, but if we apply objectively valid rules the uncertainty can be removed.
The chief task on the objectivist orientation to uncertainty is to uncover sets
of rules that will erase uncertainty in decision making. For the objectivist,
uncertainty only exists because we have not yet worked out the objectively
valid rules that will overcome it. Uncertainty is not a real feature of the
situations we face, it is a feature of the way we face those situations - in
ignorance. For the objectivist, uncertainty is then an epistemic feature of how
we stand in the environment.

We can contrast this with the realistic orientation to uncertainty that treats
uncertainty as a real property of the environment to which we have to adapt. On
this orientation, uncertainty is not something to be erased by the application
of objectively valid rules that will fill in the gaps in our knowledge. On the
realistic orientation, uncertainty reflects a real property of the situations
with which we have to deal and about which we have to take decisions. It is not
something that can be removed. Our decision making, under this orientation, is
not then guided by the application of rules that erase uncertainty; it must be
guided by a non rule-governed response to the environment. That is the response
of judgement.

In this paper I want to use the idea of the realistic orientation to
uncertainty to help bring into focus an account of ethical decision making that
foregrounds the concept of judgement rather than rules. In particular, I want to
locate the conceptual space for the idea that the concept of judgement can play
a significant cognitive role in decision making despite the point, as expressed
above, that judgement is a non rule-governed response to situations. The role of
the concept of judgement in decision making needs clarifying. As a first step
let me outline the alternative conceptions of ethical competence that are
suggested by the contrast between the objectivist and realistic orientations to

On the objectivist orientation, ethical competence consists in a capacity for
wise decision making where wise actions are guided by rules that remove
uncertainty. On this conception, the ethically wise person is someone with the
objective rules that will erase the uncertainty from the situations in which
decisions are made. On the realistic orientation, ethical competence will
consist in the capacities that enable us to adapt to the real uncertainties
presented to us. On this conception, wise actions are those that are guided by
judgement that adapts to uncertainty. Thus far, that is just to use the concept
of judgement to label an alternative conception to the rule-driven model of
decision making. The real challenge is to identify with some precision what is
meant by introducing the concept of judgement.

What gives the capacity for judgement? What are the cognitive achievements and
competencies that provide someone with the capacity to judge wisely and adapt
to uncertainty rather than erase it with the application of rules? An obvious
answer is to say that the capacity for judgement is grounded in character, but
that is no real answer unless an account of character can be provided that goes
beyond the banal platitude that the subject of character is one who judges
wisely. The task then is to outline a conception of character that gives real
content to the idea that judgement is located in a conceptual nexus of
cognitive competencies that provide the detailed resources for adapting to
uncertainty. It is that task that I want to begin to undertake.[2]

The way I suggest we understand the concept of character is to treat character
as the set of cognitive skills that are constitutive of judgement. The central
skills are the perceptual skills that make up our capacities for attending to
things and properties. These are sophisticated perceptual skills. Attention is
something you do; it is not something that happens to you. The sorts of
perceptual skills in which I am interested are skills for actively attending to
things and properties of situations that call for decision making. I want to
suggest that the key to understanding decision making on a realistic
orientation to uncertainty, is the idea that wise decisions flow from one's
capacity to find salient and attend to things and properties that the novice
fails to see. Ethical competence turns on a perceptual competence. So the
general thought is this: the character that is constitutive of ethical
competence and wise judgement is the set of attentional skills by which the
ethically expert attend to and keep track of the details of the environments
with which they deal. The decision-making characteristic of such competence is
not the application of general context-free rules that can be formulated in
advance of the situations with which one has to deal. The decision making of
character is a decision making that flows from piecemeal detailed attention to
the particularities of situations and the attempt to bring those situations
into stability with respect to some general requirement or rule. The ethically
competent needs general rules, but these are not what primarily lie behind
ethical competence in decision making. Wise judgement is not constituted by
grasp of general rules, but by the attentional skills for finding the
particularities of situations salient. The important element of decision
making, for it is the element that distinguishes the ethically competent from
the novice, is the element that turns on the possession and operation of these
attentional skills.

It might be objected that even if the above outline suggestion is right, it
only captures the superficial phenomenology of decision making and not what is
constitutive of decision making. The thought behind the objection is that
although the operation of attentional skills is important in ethical decision
making, the best account of such skills is one in which the capacity to attend
to some thing or property is itself a rule-governed capacity. Being able to
find some behaviour ethically significant and to attend to it amounts to grasp
of a concept for that behaviour and grasp of concepts is grasp of theory. It is
the idea that grasp of concepts amounts to grasp of theory that is mistaken in
this objection. The point to the proposal that I am making is that, for a great
many cases, grasp of concepts is constituted by attentional skills, not by
theory. This is not to deny that there are patterns to the deployment of
concepts that one grasps, it is only to deny that the pattern of use is derived
from grasp of a general context-independent set of rules that constitute a
theory of the phenomena in question. On my proposal, grasp of the key ethical
concepts is constituted by possession of attentional capacities. The patterns
in use of a concept emerge from the operations of the attentional skill; they
do not drive the operations of the skill.[3]

My proposal bears comparison with particularism about ethical reasons. The
position that I am advocating is, however, distinct from particularism.[4]
Particularism is problematic. The leading idea behind particularism is that
there is no context-independent account of the valence of a moral reason. This
is what Dancy means by saying that moral reasoning is holistic - what makes a
belief morally significant can vary from context to context.[5] The problem for
particularism is to give an account of the patterns of moral reasons. For many
authors, it has seemed a priori true that the rational value of beliefs is
patterned. If the belief that P is a morally significant consideration, it
should remain so in all relevantly similar situations.[6] If that is right, the
particularist does not more than draw our attention to the complexity of the
general rules that govern moral reasons, they do not really show that there are
no general rules. I think this objection to particularism is correct. It does
not, however, impinge upon my proposal.

I suggest we accept the principle that concept use is patterned. Use of
concepts requires a generality of application and there is a pattern to that
generality.[7] The point that matters for my proposal concerns the metaphysics
of these patterns of use. Put simply, the distinction that matters is the
distinction between holding that judgement in applying a concept follows
patterns and holding that judgement in applying a concept makes patterns. The
choice need not be clear-cut. To the extent that the patterns of concept use
emerge from, rather than are antecedent to, the acts of judgement involved in
applying concepts, the consequent account of moral reasons will, however, be
anti-generalist in the terms of the generalist vs. particularist debate. The
account will not, however, be particularist. The account offers a metaphysics
of reasons that acknowledges the role that our acts of judgement play in
constituting the general patterns that must hold of all concept use. We can
relate this point to the contrasting orientations to uncertainty in the
following way. To hold that judgement follows antecedently existing general
patterns is to endorse a model that supports the objectivistic orientation to
uncertainty. We might not know the antecedently existing rule, but the
conceptual navigation through uncertainties is answerable to such rules and
these, if known, would remove the uncertainty. In contrast, to hold that
judgement can, in part, be constitutive of the patterns of concept use is to
endorse the realistic orientation to uncertainty. It is to endorse the view
that uncertainty is a real feature of the environment and a function of the
novel combinations of requirements with which we are required to deal. The way
that we deal with the particular novel combinations that we face will affect
the ongoing pattern of our use of ethical concepts.

The challenge for the proposal that I am making is to make sense of the idea
that patterns of concept use can be judgement-dependent without endorsing an
anarchism about patterns in which there is no constraint on our use of words.
The perils of particularism flow from the worry that if attention to the
particularities drives moral reasoning rather than general rules, then what
constrains the patterning of concept use? What constrains us to find similar
things and events as having similar moral significance? If it is attention to
the particularities that drives moral reasoning, what would stop us finding
some new particular in each circumstance to thwart the generalist impulse to
value like with like? The worry is that nothing is left to constrain the
operation of the attention to particularities. And if nothing constrains such
attention, then it hardly seems to amount to genuine concept use.[8]

The perils of particularism are real, but do not drive us to a generalist model
of moral reasons and decision making. The trick is to see that although concept
use is patterned, this does not require us to endorse the metaphysics that
insists that such patterns have always to be theorised as antecedently
specifiable impositions upon our attention to particularities. There is the
alternative in which we conceive of the patterns as emerging from such
attention. On this alternative, we have to make sense both of the idea that
patterns of ethical concept use and decision making have an authority that
constrains us and that these patterns emerge from our acts of judgement. That
can sound like an impossible combination. The appeal of the generalist
conception of ethical rules and the associated objectivist orientation to
uncertainty is that it captures very clearly the idea that the correctness of
ethical decision making is something to which we are answerable. The rules
impinge upon us and, if we follow them, provide the constraint by which the
correctness of our decisions can be measured. In contrast, to permit the idea
that the patterns of ethical concept use and decision making might emerge from
judgement appears to let in a whiff of anarchism to our grasp of wise decision
making. Will we not be faced by an 'anything goes' account of wise judgement,
for we will have lost the constraints?

The problem here is premised on a dichotomy that is simply too melodramatic. In
ethical decision-making we are constrained to get things right, or at least do
things better or worse. This does not mean that the only source for the
constraint that measures the quality of our decisions is the sort of conception
of rules that underpins the objectivist orientation to uncertainty. I suggest we
can find the resources to dissolve the melodramatic impasse to which we have
come by appeal to Wittgenstein's later philosophy. I do this by concentrating
on Wittgenstein's own example of the concept game, but the moral for our
understanding of ethical concepts is, I think, clear.


Wittgenstein's remarks on family resemblance and his discussion of the concept
game are often thought to herald an abandonment of the idea that our use of
words is constrained by firm rules in favour of a limp sociological catalogue
of how we use words. In this catalogue, all matters of whether our use is
correct or incorrect disappear and we are left only with the observation that
this is what we do. I think that is a travesty of Wittgenstein's real intent,
but the exegetical point hardly matters. It is enough, for present purposes,
that I provide a reading of Wittgenstein's remarks that supports the role of
judgement I am promoting. Whether this is the correct reading of Wittgenstein
can be left to another occasion.[9]

In the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein asks us to consider how we
would teach someone the word 'game'. He says we give them examples, but he
argues forcefully against the idea that there is any such thing as the essence
of a game. There is no set of properties that constitute the necessary and
sufficient conditions for something being a game. There is then, no rule or
theory of games with which we can instruct the language learner. Games are
related to one another like members of a family. There is no essence to all
games; there is only a family resemblance amongst games. So, how should we
explain to someone what a game is? Wittgenstein says,

I imagine that we should describe games to him, and we might add: "This and
similar things are called 'games'" And do we know any more about it ourselves?
Is it only other people whom we cannot tell exactly what a game is? - But this
is not ignorance. (Philosophical Investigations 69)

This passage locates a key role for the concept of 'seeing the similarity'. The
language learner has to come to understand that this and similar things are
called 'games'. But what is it to understand this, for there is no general rule
or theory that constitutes the similarity? There is no theoretical account that
defines the similarity relation for games. Nevertheless, coming to see the
similarity is to come to know what you have to know to understand the word
'game'. Being able to see the similarity is a matter of knowing something. We
cannot state, however, what this amounts to, for it is not underpinned by
theoretical knowledge.

The last point that the seeing the similarity is a cognitive achievement is
important. It is tempting to think that the 'this and similar things' locution
is a loose gesture, a waving of the arm in lieu of our knowing in any proper
sense what the meaning of 'game' is. It is tempting to think that we turn to
the 'this and similar things' locution when reach the limit of what we know,
and beyond the limit we are reduced to empty or, at best, half-baked gestures.
This temptation is clearly at odds with Wittgenstein's text. In the passage
quoted he explicitly considers the possibility that we, the teachers, might not
know anymore about the meaning of 'game' and also the possibility that in fact
we do know more but are unable to tell others. His reply is precise: this is
not ignorance. We do not turn to the 'this and similar things' locution when
our knowledge runs out, nor when our ability for expressing it expires. That
'this and similar things' are games is what we know. We use this phrase not to
point out we have exhausted what we know, nor to gesture with a flaccid wave
towards some unspeakable sense of something half-grasped. We use this phrase to
say what we know. It is not a form of ignorance. Neither is it a second best
half-baked gesture at something; it is what we know and we say it clearly when
we say 'this and similar things are called "games"'.

What this amounts to is the idea that the capacity for seeing the similarity is
primitive. It is not reducible to a theoretical articulation. It is not a marker
for our ignorance and it is not a non-cognitive gesture. The key knowledge that
one acquires in learning the concept 'game' is the knowledge that this and
similar things are called 'games'. Another way of expressing this is to say
that the in learning the concept 'game' one has to acquire a perceptual skill
that consists in the capacity to attend to things and events and find them
similar. There is no more primitive account available of what one is doing when
one finds something a game because it is similar to a previous game, other than
that one is exercising an attentional ability. There are two key features of
this concept of an attentional ability that I want to emphasise. First,
attentional abilities are judgement involving; second, they are not specifiable
independently of the subject's capacity for coupling with things in experience.

To say that attentional capacities are judgement involving is just to note that
attention is an active form of perception. Seeing the similarity and classifying
something as a game is not a passive response to the receipt of a data set that
calls forth the response 'game'. If that were so, it should be possible, in
principle, to specify the data set and thereby formulate the rule that governs
the use of the word game. In outline, the rule would consist in the
specification of the data set that properly calls forth the response 'game'.
But, if Wittgenstein is right, there is no such data set. The perceptual act
involved in seeing the similarity cannot then be theorised as a passive
response; it is an active classification. The role of the subject as active
perceiver attending to things does not drop out of the picture in an account of
what goes on when we see the similarity.

To note that attentional capacities are judgement involving is to endorse the
wisp of truth in constructivist accounts of concepts. Our classification of
things as games is not driven wholly by how things are, but partly by how we
judge them to be in the way in which we attend to things. That is the
acknowledgement that, left unconstrained, leads to a constructivist account of
concepts in which we are free to call anything a game constrained perhaps only
by our sense of solidarity with how others are using words. I find such a
social constructivism incoherent.[10] Such a position is avoided on my account
because of the second key feature of attentional capacities - they are
capacities for coupling with the environment.

To say that attentional capacities are capacities for coupling with the
environment is to say that the content of the attentional act is not fully
specifiable independently of our ongoing engagement with the object or property
of attention. In teaching someone how to see the similarities we resort to
highly context-dependent language. We point out that this is very like that.
The use of this kind of language is due to the same point that underpins the
use of the 'this and similar things' locution. We resort to context-dependent
language not because we do not know fully what we are saying, or because what
we are trying to articulate is a non-cognitive response to the world. We resort
to this sort of language because what we know cannot be fully specified
independently of our engagement with things. It is in our knowledge, as
delivered by our attentional capacities, that we couple with the environment.
This is knowledge that is impossible to fully transfer from one situation to
another. Our capacities for attention can be re-engaged, but what knowledge
they deliver us on each occasion is partly constituted by and embedded in the
particularities of our attentional coupling. If attention were not a coupling,
then it should, in principle, be possible to specify the data it delivers
independently of our perceptual engagement with the world. But if that were
possible, it should, in principle, be possible to collect that data set
together and formulate the rule that governs the operation of attention. It is
that thought that Wittgenstein denies. What he is endorsing is then a model in
which our capacities for judgement in perception - the attentional abilities by
which we couple with things- are partly constitutive of the concepts we teach by
saying things like 'this and similar things are called "games"'.

If this is right, it has important consequences for how we understand
experiential learning, the idea that learning concepts is not a matter of
absorbing theory but of having a rich diet of perceptual encounters with the
appropriate things and events. The importance of such learning, on my model, is
not instrumental. Its importance is not due simply to the thought that people
learn things quicker, cheaper and more effectively by being given the
appropriate experiences, as if the latter were a short cut to something that
could, in principle, be delivered in the classroom discussion of theory.
Experiential learning is important because what one has to learn is not theory,
but a repertoire of attentional capacities that are capacities for coupling. And
you cannot learn those (you cannot even specify them) independently of repeated
exercises in coupling. I return to this point about experiential learning below.


The application of the above account of attention-dependent concepts and how
they are acquired to the case of ethical concepts should be clear. Consider the
case of a manager trying to deal with the complexities of Whistle blowing.
Suppose they are considering whether or not it would be ethical to engage in
such an activity. A key element of their decision making must be the matter of
how they classify the event being considered. How similar/dissimilar is it to
other cases? Getting the right classification of a possible course of action is
normally the key to the deliberation. The case is many times more complex than
that of games, although even that can have complexities and consequences for
ethical deliberation that are taxing. The claim by the young child who has just
hit its sibling that 'We were only playing' is not straightforward to judge
correctly. The claim that a potential Whistle blowing is ethically permissible
is many time more complex. How does the ethically informed manager learn to
handle the concept of ethical permissibility with regards to Whistle blowing?

We are familiar with the idea that learning to handle the concept of ethical
permissibility with regard to Whistle blowing is a matter of absorbing the
right theory. The Kantian requirement that we universalise the proposed maxim
for action is a common theoretical resource. It is also the theoretical
resource that most directly appears to support the demand for general
principles to govern deliberation. I have insisted that the role of judgement
that I have defended does not contest the claim that the application of
concepts is patterned in general ways. It only contests the account of the
source of these patterns. The familiar problems with the Kantian test help
illustrate this issue about the source of the patterns of ethical concept use.

A key problem for the Kantian test concerns the choice of the classification of
the event that is selected for universalisation. How one classifies the event
will determine whether the maxim is universalisable. So what plays the dominant
role in being able to make wise ethical choices? Is it the requirement of
universalisability of maxims or is it the judgement involved in classifying. On
my account it is the latter. The manager deliberating whether or not it would be
ethically permissible to whistle-blow in a given situation needs the attentional
capacities to classify the proposed action correctly, to find it similar to some
and dissimilar to others. It will be a consequence of this that the decision
whether to act will fall into a general pattern, but the pattern is consequent
to the act of judgement. Knowing the general rules is, on this approach no
more, and no less, than knowledge of patterns that are summative and that
illustrate previous wise judgement. It is summative knowledge not prescriptive
knowledge. Knowing the rules does not determine the decision. The ethically
wise manager is not someone with a wide stock of rules at their proposal, they
are someone with the capacity to attend to the particulars and make judgements
of similarity and dissimilarity from which a patterned behaviour will emerge.

There is a particular point about the character of ethical classification that
makes the role of judgement and attention even more salient than the simpler
case of deciding whether or not something is a game. Ethical judgement involves
the classification of the behaviour of others. The behaviour of others is
determined, in part, by their acts of judgement. In making a judgement about
the nature of others' behaviour one is making a judgement about something that
is itself partly determined by judgement. The target that one is trying to
classify is a moving one, for it can change as the other makes a judgement that
amends the nature of their behaviour. There is then an iterability of judgement
in the ethical case. Once this point is acknowledged, it is no wonder that we
are often faced with uncertainty about the right course of action. Getting the
classification of the proposed action right is not just a matter of passively
receiving a full data set and then subjecting it to the appropriate rules of a
decision tree. Judgement and attention are constitutive of the perception by
which the action is classified. Furthermore, they can be constitutive of the
event to which you are trying to attend in ways that are beyond your control
because they involve the judgement and attention of the players concerned.

The simple example of young children squabbling illustrates the general point.
The parent might judge that a physical confrontation constituted an assault
that requires reprimanding. The event looked more similar to a fight than a
game. But suppose the 'aggressor' complains that 'it was only a game', what
then determines whether this is right? The matter is not straightforward. It
will involve, amongst other things, the judgement of the child who was 'victim'
of the assault, but their judgement is not a passive perceptual take on the
situation either. Getting the judgement right will require a nuanced
understanding of the episode and its history. Judging it right will involve
getting the best overall narrative of how things started developed and
concluded. It need not be at all transparent to the 'victim' whether it was
still a game, even if it started as such. There is no transparent passive
perception here that trumps the issue. Instead, there is the need for detailed
attention to what had been said and done and how best to fit it together into a
story of the whole sequence. If the participants' judgements change, that of the
parent who observed the event will have to be reconsidered. And this is only a
simple example with a single iteration of judgement trying to capture something
partly constituted by judgement. When we leave the nursery to consider the
ethical dilemmas of business we can expect to find many levels of iteration of

All of this supports the case for the realistic orientation to uncertainty.
Uncertainty is a real feature of many of the ethical environments we face, for
those environments are constituted by many levels of iteration of judgement
that make the whole thing an elastic moving target. My initial point about
attentional capacities and the role they provide for judgement was that it is
not a bald empirical fact that such-and-such is a game. The classification
inheres as much in our active judgement of similarities that overlays the bare
empirical details concerning the movements of people, balls and so on. Our
response in seeing the similarities is not a bald empirical event. The added
complexity introduced by the iteration of judgement takes the point further. In
cases where we attend to behaviour that is itself dependent on the actors'
judgement, not only is our response not a bald empirical event, neither is that
to which we respond. Furthermore, our initial response may bring about a
reconsideration of the event by the participants and takes us on a further
iteration of judgement. It is in the business of adapting wisely to
environments with the potential for such complexity that the place for the
attentional capacities I have been promoting comes to the fore.


I used the concept of character for the assemblage of attentional skills by
which the ethically expert navigates their way through the uncertainties of an
environment that I have suggested is partly constituted by many layered
iterations of judgement. How does one teach character? The answer to this has
to follow Wittgenstein's advice in the simpler case of the concept game. The
central contrast is between learning ethical deliberation by internalising
rules versus what I have elsewhere called 'growing awareness'.[11] Learning to
judge wisely about the ethical is a matter of learning how to attend. It is a
matter of acquiring the capacities for awareness. These are the attentional
skills possession of which throws the ethical into relief for the ethically
competent and lack of which leaves the ethical novice in the dark.

On this conception, experiential learning must be central to the acquisition of
character. If that is so, it is no surprise that some of our major business
schools have found explicit space within their curricula for the role of
experience and that of literary art forms in courses on business ethics.[12]
The task of ethical learning is to learn how to attend by acquiring the
specialised and sophisticated attentional abilities by which we couple with the
environment. If this is right, there is no good reason not to allow that the
experiences that will assist the growing awareness may include those drawn from
literary sources. Indeed, once the notion of an ethical education is pared away
from the idea of internalising rules and theory, there are no obvious limits to
what might count as appropriate resources with which to grow the ethically aware

The position I have described is not hostile to rules; it seeks only to put
them in their place. From the perspective of the realistic attitude to
uncertainty we still need to adapt to and navigate our way through the world
with purpose. There are all sorts of general rules that hold good. The point,
however, is that once these general rules are formulated very little is
determined about what must be done. The way we attend, the way we couple with
the situations that confront us will be guided by various goals and high level
projects. The difficult part is not formulating our goals, it is leaving our
targets unspecified so that at the details we can adapt and judge according to
the needs of the particular. The ethically competent manager will have many
goals, but few targets, for they will recognise that the detailed rules they
have managed to articulate are, at best, summaries of past acts of wise
judgement. As such, these summaries do not prescribe what to do next. That
comes from paying attention and judging wisely. This is an altogether different
sort of cognitive achievement to that which underpins the objectivist
orientation to uncertainty. It is the achievement of judgement, an achievement
that recognises the reality of the uncertainty and complexity of the ethical
environment and recognises our ineliminable role in the determination of the
patterns of ethical life.


D. Bloor, Wittgenstein, Rules & Institutions, London: Routledge 1997

Dancy, J. (1993) Moral Reasons, Oxford: Blackwell

Hooker, B & Little, M. Eds. (2000) Moral Particularism Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Jackson, F., Pettit, P. & Smith, M. (2000) 'Ethical particularism and patterns'
in Moral Particularism Eds. B. Hooker & M Little, Oxford, pp.79-99.

Klemola, U-M, & Norros, L. (1997) 'Analysis of the clinical behaviour of
anaesthetists: recognition of uncertainty as a basis for practice' Medical
Education 31, 449-56

Luntley, M. (2002a) 'Patterns, particularism and seeing the similarity',
Philosophical Papers vol. 31 No. 3, 251-71

Luntley, M. (2002b) 'Knowing how to manage: expertise and embedded knowledge',
Reason in Practice 2 (3), 3-14

Luntley, M. (2003a) 'Growing awareness' plenary address, Philosophy of
Education Society of Great Britain, annual conference, 11-13 April 2003, Oxford

Luntley, M (2003b) Wittgenstein: meaning and judgement, Oxford: Blackwell


1. I take the labels objectivist and realistic from Klemola, U-M, & Norros, L.

2. This task is undertaken at length in a project currently in progress, An
Education of Character.

3. See Luntley (2002a), (2002b), (2003a) for more details on the conceptual
move at play here.

4. For a recent survey of particularism see Hooker & Little (2000).

5. Dancy (1993) p.60

6. See Jackson et al (2000) for this response to particularism.

7. See my (2003a) for more details on the kinds of generality legitimately
required of concept use.

8. In effect, Jackson et. al. (2000) argue for precisely this point. Concept
use must be patterned, so anything that satisfied the particularist's
intuitions simply would not amount to moral concepts. My response to this is to
admit that concept use is patterned, but to deny the metaphysics that insists
that such patterns have always to be theorised as antecedently specifiable
impositions upon our attention to particularities rather than patterns that
emerge from such attention.

9. Although see my (2003b).

10. Wittgenstein is often taken to be a social constructivist, e.g. Bloor
(1997). This is wrong, see my (2003b).

11. Cf. my (2003a).

12. E.g. the modules 'The Moral Leader' at Harvard Business School,
'Literature, Ethics and Authority' at MIT.

Michael Luntley
Department of Philosophy
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL