Alan Thomas is currently Professor of Ethics at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Educated at King’s College, Cambridge, Harvard (as a Kennedy scholar) and Oxford, he has taught at the Universities of London and Kent and has held visiting positions at UBC and Tulane. Thomas has published papers in ethics, political philosophy, the philosophy of mind and epistemology. He is the author of two books (Value and Context, OUP, 2006; Thomas Nagel, McGill-Queen’s, 2008) and has edited a third (Bernard Williams, CUP, 2007). He is currently completing a book on egalitarianism and will, during his time at St. Louis, complete a book on moral particularism provisionally entitled The Verdict of Reasons. This latter project explains how a particularist account of moral judgement flows from an independently attractive account of the epistemic virtues in general and an account of epistemic humility in particular.
When people act morally ought they to be guided by principles? The moral generalist says yes: good judgement is informed by the agent’s grasp of a finite set of finite principles. The moral particularist says no: moral judgement is the exercise of a capacity for good judgement that is necessarily unprincipled. This research project asks if we can adjudicate between these two views by looking at the nature of practical intelligence and by focusing on the nature of intellectual humility. In this context, humility is the virtue of managing one’s own epistemic limitations so that one’s capacity for a virtuous life is reinforced, and not broken down or impaired, by recalcitrant experience. Virtuous people are always guided by an overall sense of worthwhileness, but they are also guided by a grasp of which ethical problems are soluble, and which are not, relative to his or her limited resources. It is argued that the moral particularist has the more convincing story to tell than the generalist about the nature of intellectual humility and its relation to the ethical virtues.