The impartiality of Smith’s spectator: The problem of parochialism and the possibility of social critique

European Journal of Political Theory 17 (2):174-193 (2018)
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Amartya Sen has argued that contractarian theories of justice inevitably fall victim to the problem of parochialism, for the reason that they rely on a problematically narrow conception of impartiality. Sen finds a corrective model of impartiality in Adam Smith’s figure of the impartial spectator. In this essay, I argue that Sen’s invocation of the spectator to resolve the problem of parochialism is unfounded, as the impartial spectator is fundamentally a product of socialization that serves to propagate conventional moral norms. I consider various interpretive avenues for “rescuing” the spectator from parochialism, and ultimately conclude that a minor amendment to Smith’s account, resting on the possibility of a conscience informed by moral pluralism, is required.



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David Golemboski
Augustana College, SD

References found in this work

Political Liberalism.J. Rawls - 1995 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.
Ethical absolutism and the ideal observer.Roderick Firth - 1951 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 12 (3):317-345.
Constructing Justice for Existing Practice: Rawls and the Status Quo.Aaron James - 2005 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 33 (3):281-316.

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