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Contextualism in Ethics

  1. Gunnar Björnsson

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee760

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Björnsson, G. 2013. Contextualism in Ethics. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


There are various ways in which context matters in ethics. Most clearly, the context in which an action is performed might determine whether the action is morally right: though it is often wrong not to keep a promise, it might be permissible in certain contexts. More radically, proponents of moral particularism (see Particularism) have argued that a reason for an action in one context is not guaranteed to be a reason in a different context: whether it is a reason against an act that it breaks a promise or inflicts pain might depend on the particulars of the situation. In moral epistemology, Timmons (1999: Ch. 5) argues that whether a moral judgment is epistemically responsible depends both on the basic moral outlook of the moral judge and on whether the context of judgment is one of engaged moral thinking, or one of distanced, skeptical reflection. In the former, the judge's basic moral outlook can serve to justify the judgment; not so in the latter (see Epistemology, Moral).


  • ethics;
  • metaethics;
  • philosophy