When is Impartiality Morally Appropriate?
In Brian Feltham & John Cottingham (eds.), Partiality and Impartiality: Morality, Special Relationships, and the Wider World. Oxford University Press (2010)
With respect to morality, the term ‘impartiality’ is used to refer to quite different things. My paper will focus on three: 1. Impartial application of good (first-order) moral rules 2. Impartial benevolence as the direct guide to decisions about what to do 3. Impartial assessment of (first-order) moral rules What are the relations among these three? Suppose there was just one good (first-order) moral rule, namely, that one should choose whatever one thinks will maximize aggregate good. If there were just this one moral rule, then impartial application of that one rule might be compatible with impartial benevolence as the direct guide to decisions about what to do. But now suppose there are other good moral rules, such as ones that prohibit certain kinds of act, ones that permit some degree of preferential concern for oneself, and ones that require some degree of preference for one’s friends and family in one’s decisions about how to allocate one’s time, attention, and other resources. If there are these other good rules, then at least sometimes impartially applying and complying with them will conflict with letting impartial benevolence dictate what to do. More importantly, we can reject impartial benevolence as the direct guide to decisions about what to do while endorsing impartial application of good (first-order) moral rules. Likewise, rejecting impartial benevolence as the direct guide to decisions about what to do does not entail rejecting impartial assessment of (first-order) moral rules. Section 1 of this paper argues that impartiality in the application of good moral rules is always appropriate. Section 2 argues that impartial benevolence as a direct guide to decisions about what to do is appropriate only sometimes. Section 3 argues that impartiality in the assessment of rules is or is not appropriate---depending on how plausible the impartially selected rules are
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