“Publics” Administration and the Ethics of Particularity



Ethical orientations that emphasize universal duties, ideals, and values are well known to public administrators. We pay attention to principle, policy, ideals, shared goals, and the provision of a variety of commonly held values, such as clean air and water, mosquito abatement, and public recreation. The word “public” often seems to be a synonym for “universal.” However, this article explores particularity in ethics, especially as it applies to the life of the public servant. It identifies three distinct orientations that focus on the concrete—as opposed to the abstract—and it shows how the exceptional cases are not administrative problems; rather they provide a reality check for public administrators who suppose rules, plans, and programs to be their primary orientation toward the management of public concerns.