Almost every country today contains adherents of different religions and different secular conceptions of the good life. Is there any alternative to a power struggle among them, leading most probably to either civil war or repression? The argument of this book is that justice as impartiality offers a solution. According to the theory of justice as impartiality, principles of justice are those principles that provide a reasonable basis for the unforced assent of those subject to them. The object (...) of this book is to set the theory out, explain its rationale, and respond to a variety of criticism that have been made of it. As the second volume of his work-in-progress, A Treatise on Social Justice, this work lies at the heart of a thriving academic debate which the author has played a key role in shaping. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
The debate between impartialists and their critics has dominated both moral and political philosophy for over a decade. Characteristically, impartialists argue that any sensible form of impartialism can accommodate the partial concerns we have for others. By contrast, partialists deny that this is so. They see the division as one which runs exceedingly deep and argue that, at the limit, impartialist thinking requires that we marginalise those concerns and commitments that make our lives meaningful. This book attempts to show both (...) that the dispute between impartialists and their critics runs very deep, and that it can nonetheless be resolved. The resolution begins by asking how impartialist political philosophy can defend the priority of justice when it conflicts with people's commitments to their conceptions of the good. It is argued that priority can only defended if political impartialism has a moral foundation, and that moral foundation must not be a foundation in the ideal of equality (as is often thought), but a foundation in the partial concerns we have for others. In short, impartialist moral philosophy must take our partial concerns as central if it is to gain allegiance. However, if it does take our partial concerns as central, then it can generate a defence of political impartialism which shows why justice must take priority, but which also acknowledges that pluralism about the good is permanent. (shrink)
We need modal imagination in order to extend our conception of reality - and, in particular, of human beings - beyond our immediate experience in the indexical present; and we need to do this in order to preserve the significance of human interaction. To make this leap of imagination successfully is to achieve not only insight but also an impartial perspective on our own and others' inner states. This perspective is a necessary condition of experiencing compassion for others. This is (...) the primary thesis I will try to defend in this discussion. (shrink)
Following a long-standing philosophical tradition, impartiality is a distinctive and determining feature of moral judgments, especially in matters of distributive justice. This broad ethical tradition was revived in welfare economics by Vickrey, and above all, Harsanyi, under the form of the so-called Impartial Observer Theorem. The paper offers an analytical reconstruction of this argument and a step-wise philosophical critique of its premisses. It eventually provides a new formal version of the theorem based on subjective probability.
This book is devoted to applied ethics. We focus on six popular and controversial topics: abortion, the environment, animals, poverty, punishment, and disability. We cover three chapters per topic, and each chapter is devoted to a famous or influential argument on the topic. After we present an influential argument, we then consider objections to the argument, and replies to the objections. The book is impartial, and set up in order to equip the reader to make up her own mind about (...) the controversial topics covered. (shrink)
We present an experiment designed to investigate three different mechanisms to achieve impartiality in distributive justice. We consider a first-person procedure, inspired by the Rawlsian veil of ignorance, and two third-party procedures, an involved spectator and a detached observer. First-person veiled stakeholders and involved spectators are affected by an initially unfair distribution that, in the stakeholders’ case, is to be redressed. We find substantial differences in the redressing task. Detached observers propose significantly fairer redistributions than veiled stakeholders or involved (...) spectators. Risk preferences partly explain why veiled stakeholders propose less egalitarian redistributions. Surprisingly, involved spectators, who are informed about their position in society, tend to favour stakeholders holding the same position as they do after the initial distribution. (shrink)
D. D. Raphael examines the moral philosophy of Adam Smith (1723-90), best known for his famous work on economics, The Wealth of Nations, and shows that his thought still has much to offer philosophers today. Raphael gives particular attention to Smith's original theory of conscience, with its emphasis on the role of 'sympathy' (shared feelings).
In Chapter 2 of Taking Morality Seriously, I put forward an argument for morality's objectivity that is based on the first-order implications of denying such objectivity. In her contribution to this volume, Mancuso criticizes that argument. This paper is a response to some of her main points.
Consequentialism is often charged with demandingness objections which arise in response to the theory’s commitment to impartiality. It might be thought that the only way that consequentialists can avoid such demandingness objections is by dropping their commitment to impartialism. However, I outline and defend a framework within which all reasons for action are impartially grounded, yet which can avoid demandingness objections. I defend this framework against what might appear to be a strong objection, namely the claim that anyone who (...) accepts the theory will be practically irrational. (shrink)
Judith Jarvis Thomson recently argued that it is impermissible for a bystander to turn a runaway trolley from five onto one. But she also argues that a trolley driver is required to do just that. We believe that her argument is flawed in three important ways. She fails to give proper weight to (a) an agent¹s claims not to be required to act in ways he does not want to, (b) impartiality in the weighing of competing patient-claims, and (c) (...) the role of patient-claims in determining agent-duties. All three of these failures can be understood in terms of what we call the Mechanics of Claims, an approach we develop for identifying and balancing competing claims in determining rights. Using that framework, one can see both why Thomson's most recent argument is mistaken, and how to think more clearly about deontological choices generally. (shrink)
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global public health disaster driven largely by antibiotic use in human health care. Doctors considering whether to prescribe antibiotics face an ethical conflict between upholding individual patient health and advancing public health aims. Existing literature mainly examines whether patients awaiting consultations desire or expect to receive antibiotic prescriptions, but does not report views of the wider public regarding conditions under which doctors should prescribe antibiotics. It also does not explore the ethical significance of public views (...) or their sensitivity to awareness of AMR risks or the standpoint (self-interested or impartial) taken by participants. Methods: An online survey was conducted with a sample of the U.S. public (n = 158). Participants were asked to indicate what relative priority should be given to individual patients and society-at-large from various standpoints and in various contexts, including antibiotic prescription. Results: Of the participants, 50.3% thought that doctors should generally prioritize individual patients over society, whereas 32.0% prioritized society over individual patients. When asked in the context of AMR, 39.2% prioritized individuals whereas 45.5% prioritized society. Participants were significantly less willing to prioritize society over individuals when they themselves were the patient, both in general (p = .001) and in relation to AMR specifically (p = .006). Conclusions: Participants’ attitudes were more oriented to society and sensitive to collective responsibility when informed about the social costs of antibiotic use and when considered from a third-person rather than first-person perspective. That is, as participants came closer to taking the perspective of an informed and impartial “ideal observer,” their support for prioritizing society increased. Our findings suggest that, insofar as antibiotic policies and practices should be informed by attitudes that are impartial and well-informed, there is significant support for prioritizing society. (shrink)
A number of commentators on Smith’s philosophy have observed that the relationship between his moral theory and his theological beliefs is “exceedingly difficult to unravel.” The available evidence, as generally presented, suggests that although Smith was not entirely orthodox by contemporary standards, he has no obvious or significant irreligious commitments or orientation. Contrary to this view of things, this essay argues that behind the veneer of orthodoxy that covers Smith’s discussion in The Theory of the Moral Sentiments there are significant (...) irreligious themes present in his work. -/- [First published in Italian as: “L’irreligione e lo spettatore imparziale nel sistema morale di Adam Smith”, in Rivista di Filosofia 3 (3):375-403 (2005). Translated by E. Lecaldano.]. (shrink)
Distinguishing between reasonable partiality and reasonable impartiality makes a difference in resolving the serious clashes between priority for compatriots versus cosmopolitan global duties. Defenders of a priority for compatriots have to acknowledge two strong moral constraints: states have to fulfil all their special, domestic and trans-domestic duties, and associative duties are limited by distributive constraints resulting from the moral duty to fight poverty and gross global inequalities. In the recent global context, I see four main problems for liberal-nationalist defenders (...) of priority for compatriots: (i) Reasonable particularists often forget that associative duties for compatriots compete with many sub-national and trans-domestic associative duties. (ii) They tend to forget that associative national duties compete with other, strong special (contractual, reparative) obligations regarding not only citizens and residents inside nation-states but also trans-domestic obligations across state borders. (iii) They do not properly discuss the problem of unallocated duties in addressing global poverty and insecurity. (iv) The design of supra-national and global mediating institutions, and the crafting of policies to remedy the misallocation of duties and to coordinate the required state activities is an urgent task neglected by liberal nationalists. In the recent context, reasonable partialitys bias towards partiality is most unwelcome and morally dubious. Reasonable impartialitys bias towards cosmopolitanism helps to stimulate a drastic shift in obligations and stimulates productive trans-national institutional design. (shrink)
We read Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments as a critical response to David Hume's moral theory. While both share a commitment to moral sentimentalism, they propose different ways of meeting its main challenge, that is, explaining how judgments informed by sentiments can nevertheless have a justified claim to general authority. This difference is particularly manifest in their respective accounts of ‘moral optics’, or the way they rely on the analogy between perceptual and moral judgments. According to Hume, making perceptual (...) and moral judgments requires focusing on frequently co-occurring impressions for tracking an existing object with its perceptual properties or an agent's character traits. Smith uses visual perception for the purpose of illustrating one source of the partiality of the sentiments people feel in response to actions. Before making a moral judgment, people have to disregard this partiality and accept that they are all equally important. Smith and Hume's different ways of relying on the same analogy reveals the still-overlooked and yet profound differences between their moral theories. (shrink)
To capture genuine utilitarian tendencies, developed the Oxford Utilitarianism Scale based on two subscales, which measure the commitment to impartial beneficence and the willingness to cause harm for the greater good. In this article, I argue that the impartial beneficence subscale, which breaks ground with previous research on utilitarian moral psychology, does not distinctively measure utilitarian moral judgment. I argue that Kantian ethics captures the all-encompassing impartial concern for the well-being of all human beings. The Oxford Utilitarianism Scale draws, in (...) fact, a point of division that places Kantian and utilitarian theories on the same track. I suggest that the impartial beneficence subscale needs to be significantly revised in order to capture distinctively utilitarian judgments. Additionally, I propose that psychological research should focus on exploring multiple sources of the phenomenon of impartial beneficence without categorizing it as exclusively utilitarian. (shrink)
How should an impartial social observer judge distributions of well-being across different individuals when there is uncertainty regarding the state of the world? I explore this question by imposing very weak conditions of rationality and benevolent sympathy on impartial betterness judgments under uncertainty. Although weak enough to be consistent with all the main theories of rationality, these conditions prove to be sufficient to rule out any heterogeneity in what is good for individuals, to require a neutral attitude to uncertainty on (...) the part of the social observer, and to require that both individual and social betterness be strongly separable. (shrink)
This article explores the relationship between friendship and morality. Two ideas have been influential in the history of moral philosophy: the impartial standpoint and close friendship. These two perspectives on thought and action can conflict, however, and such a case is presented here. In an attempt to resolve these tensions, and understand the assumption that gives rise to it, I explore an alternative conception of moral conduct and friendship suggested by early Confucian thought. Within this account, moral conduct is that (...) which aims at harmony, understood as the appropriate blending of different elements. This suggests a conception of friendship that realizes harmony through a focus on shared activities, and the quality of interaction achieved between people as they participate in shared social events. This account offers a novel way of conceptualizing friendship, which also avoids the tension between the impartial standpoint and close friendship. (shrink)
Distinguishing between reasonable partiality and reasonable impartiality makes a difference in resolving the serious clashes between 'priority for compatriots' versus cosmopolitan global duties. Defenders of a priority for compatriots have to acknowledge two strong moral constraints: states have to fulfil all their special, domestic and trans-domestic duties, and associative duties are limited by distributive constraints resulting from the moral duty to fight poverty and gross global inequalities. In the recent global context, I see four main problems for liberal-nationalist defenders (...) of priority for compatriots: Reasonable particularists often forget that associative duties for compatriots compete with many sub-national and trans-domestic associative duties. They tend to forget that associative national duties compete with other, strong special obligations regarding not only citizens and residents inside nation-states but also trans-domestic obligations across state borders. They do not properly discuss the problem of unallocated duties in addressing global poverty and insecurity. The design of supra-national and global 'mediating' institutions, and the crafting of policies to remedy the misallocation of duties and to coordinate the required state activities is an urgent task neglected by liberal nationalists. In the recent context, reasonable partiality's bias towards partiality is most unwelcome and morally dubious. Reasonable impartiality's bias towards cosmopolitanism helps to stimulate a drastic shift in obligations and stimulates productive trans-national institutional design. (shrink)
Many hold that morality is essentially impartial. Many also hold that partiality is justified. Susan Wolf argues that these commitments push us towards downgrading morality's practical significance. Here I argue that there is a way of pushing morality's boundaries in a partialist direction in a way that respects Wolf's insights.
Intergenerational impartiality requires putting the welfare of future generations at par with that of our own. However, rational choice requires weighting all welfare values by the respective probabilities of realization. As the risk of non-survival of mankind is strictly positive for all time periods and as the probability of non-survival is cumulative, the probability weights operate like discount factors, though justified on a morally justifiable and completely different ground. Impartial intertemporal welfare maximization is acceptable, though the welfare of people (...) in the very far future has lower effects as the probabilities of their existence are also lower. However, the effective discount rate on future welfare values (distinct from monetary values) justified on this ground is likely to be less than 0.1 per annum. Such discounting does not compromise environmental protection and sustainability unduly. The finiteness of our universe implies that the sum of our expected welfare to infinity remains finite, solving the paradox of having to compare different infinite values in optimal growth/conservation theories. (shrink)
This paper discusses “impartiality thought experiments”, i.e., thought experiments that attempt to generate intuitions which are unaffected by personal characteristics such as age, gender or race. We focus on the most prominent impartiality thought experiment, the Veil of Ignorance, and show that both in its original Rawlsian version and in a more generic version, empirical investigations can be normatively relevant in two ways: First, on the assumption that the VOI is effective and robust, if subjects dominantly favor a (...) certain normative judgment behind the VOI this provides evidence in favor of that judgment; if, on the other hand, they do not dominantly favor a judgment this reduces our justification for it. Second, empirical investigations can also contribute to assessing the effectiveness and robustness of the VOI in the first place, thereby supporting or undermining its applications across the board. (shrink)
This essay critically assesses two strategies of accommodation used by defenders of impartialism in ethics to argue that the care orientation represents no genuine challenge to impartialist theoretical paradigms. One strategy focuses on impartiality as a constraint on moral deliberation, the other as a constraint on moral justification. While highlighting respects in which the commitment to impartiality is more consonant with the care orientation than many advocates of care have acknowledged, this essay attempts to clarify crucial ways in (...) which each accommodationist strategy falls, thus locating some of the more important contributions and challenges the care orientation offers to moral theory. (shrink)
Kierkegaard's "Works of Love" provocatively presses for a reconsideration of impartiality, partiality, and equality. Past readings of this text have typically (1) criticized its focus on the abstract category of "human being," ignoring its attention to distinctiveness and difference; (2) defended it from the charge of abstraction by accenting its treatment of distinctiveness and difference, playing down its assumptions about the "essentially" human; (3) acknowledged its emphases on both essence and difference, arguing that they are incompatible and irreconcilable; or (...) (4) acknowledged both emphases, assuming they are compatible without exploring or accounting for the apparent incompatibility. As a means of resolving this seeming inconsistency, I will focus on Kierkegaard's recommendation of moral blindness and its implications for moral vision, and I will argue that "Works of Love" contains resources for an understanding of impartiality that allows moral attention to concrete difference. (shrink)
It is a commonplace that in many societies people adhere to profoundly different conceptions of the good. Given this we need to know what political principles are appropriate. How can we treat people who are committed to different accounts of the good with fairness? One recent answer to this pressing question is given by Brian Barry in his important work Justice as Impartiality. This book, of course, contains much more than this. It includes a powerful and incisive discussion of (...) several accounts of distributive justice, a critique of other attempts to defend liberal neutrality and a rebuttal of those who are critical of the ideal of impartiality. In this paper I wish, however, to focus on Barry's defence of liberal neutrality. The paper falls into three parts. Section I outlines the thesis that Barry wants to defend and gives a brief sketch of the argument he employs to defend it. Barry's argument makes two claims – what I have termed the Sceptical Thesis and the Agreement Thesis. Section II therefore critically assesses Barry's defence of the sceptical thesis and Section III examines the agreement thesis. (shrink)
Garrett Cullity contends that fairness is appropriate impartiality Chapters 8 and 10 and Cullity ). Cullity deploys his account of fairness as a means of limiting the extreme moral demand to make sacrifices in order to aid others that was posed by Peter Singer in his seminal article ‘Famine, Affluence and Morality’. My paper is founded upon the combination of the observation that the idea that fairness consists in appropriate impartiality is very vague and the fact that psychological (...) studies show the self-serving bias is especially likely to infect one’s judgements when the ideas involved are vague. I argue that Cullity’s solution to extreme moral demandingness is threatened by these findings. I then comment on whether some other theories of fairness are vulnerable to the same objection. (shrink)
This paper presents an analysis of the various dimensions of independence and impartiality. Among other things, I will argue that the two concepts, both of which are profoundly implicated in the rule of law, can be conceived as values and are perfectly distinguishable from each other. I will also propose a conception of neutrality, as a third distinct value that satisfies the requirement for non-redundancy with regard to independence and impartiality. Hence, judges and arbitrators must be independent, impartial (...) and neutral. Each of these values contributes in different ways to enabling the law to fulfil its distinctive function of facilitating social interaction in complex and plural societies. (shrink)
The paper constitutes a detailed critical commentary on Stephen Darwall’s Impartial Reason (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983). Its central thesis is that Darwall’s attempt to integrate a naturalist theory of substantive reasons for acting with a neo-rationalist derivation of moral requirements from the very concept of practical rationality is faced with insurmountable theoretic problems. The author argues that anyone who would accept a plausible internalist account of reasons, that justificatory reasons for an agent to act are facts which must be (...) capable of motivating that agent under certain conditions, cannot establish on an a priori or rationalist basis claims for the intersubjective validity of reasons or substantive normative requirements of any kind, but rather must acknowledge that such claims are both irreducibly empirical and epistemically risky. (shrink)
Most of us have been brought up on the idea that moral theories divide as they are, at the root, either deontological or consequentialist. A new point of division has been emerging that places deontological and consequentialist theories together against theories of virtue, or a conception of morality constrained at the outset by the requirements of the “personal.” In a series of important essays Bernard Williams has offered striking arguments for the significance of the personal in moral thought based on (...) the role of integrity in human activity and character. His criticisms of both Kantian and utilitarian theories for their deep-seated tendencies to undermine the integrity of persons brings to a new level of seriousness and subtlety long-standing complaints against these theories—the invasive do-gooding of utilitarianism, the coldness and severity toward normal human concerns of Kantian theory. Although Williams is inclined to find the sources of the attack on integrity in these different features of the two traditional theories, in the end his complaint against both of them turns on their demand that the moral agent submit himself to the authority of impartial value. (shrink)
Growing inequality and its implications for democratic polity suggest that corporate social responsibility has not proved itself in twenty-first century business, largely as it lacks clear criteria of demarcation for businesses to follow. Today the problem is viewed by many commentators as an ethical challenge to business itself. In response to this challenge, we begin by examining Porter and Kramer’s :64–77, 2011) call for a shift from a social responsibility to a shared value framework and the need to respond to (...) the problem of the ‘separation thesis’ between business and ethics :89–118, 1996; Harris and Freeman, Bus Ethics Q 18:541–548, 2008). We identify the eighteenth century economist and philosopher Adam Smith in his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments as a source for an ethical approach to business. Building on his central concept of ‘sympathy’, we introduce the idea of the Impartial Spectator Test, which we argue builds on traditional stakeholder perspectives and which provides an objective route to ethical criteria of demarcation. We conclude by assessing how this approach adds to the existing debate around social responsibility and shared value. (shrink)
Consequentialism is often criticized for failing to accommodate impersonal constraints and personal options. A common consequentialist response is to acknowledge the anticonsequentialist intuitions but to argue either that the consequentialist can, after all, accommodate the allegedly recalcitrant intuitions or that, where accommodation is impossible, the recalcitrant intuition can be dismissed for want of an adequate philosophical rationale. Whereas these consequentialist responses have some plausibility, associational duties represent a somewhat different challenge to consequentialism, inasmuch as they embody neither impersonal constraints nor (...) personal options, but rather personal constraints. Our intuitions about associational duties resist capture within the intellectual net of consequentialism, and such duties do admit of a philosophical rationale at least as plausible as anything the consequentialist has to offer. (shrink)
The association of women with caring dispositions and thinking has become a persistent theme in recent feminist writing. There are a number of reasons for this. One reason is the impetus that has been provided by the empirical work of Carol Gilligan on women’s moral development. The fact that this association is not merely an ideologically or philosophically postulated one, but is argued for on empirical grounds, tends to add to its credibility. Another reason for the resilience of the association (...) is the existence of an increasingly prominent theme in feminist thought and action that focuses on the importance of women’s difference from men, both as a fact and as a goal. Within this theme, there are various views on what the relevant differences are between women and men, and why the differences ought to be emphasized and properly respected. Women’s caring, as will be seen, turns out to have a ﬁrm presence in all of these views, and as a result, many women argue that caring should form the basis of a distinctive feminist ethic. On these views, women’s approaches to understanding moral situations, deﬁning selfconceptions, choosing goals and roles, and guiding behaviour, should all be informed by and based upon dispositions of caring. However, if this idea of a feminist ethic of care is to be plausible, it will need to be reconciled with another strong theme in feminism, according to which in fundamental moral respects women ought not be considered or treated differently from men. We will examine the standing of a feminist ethic of care in the context of this tension between the difference theme and the sameness theme in feminism. The discussion begins by re-characterizing the justice and care debate in terms of impartialist and partialist ethical perspectives, and it then goes on to indicate the various ways in which women’s presumed disposition to caring and partialism ﬁnds prominence within the difference theme. The central focus of the discussion, however, will be the question of how to reconcile the conﬂict that exists between impartialist, justice-based moral thinking, and a partialist, caring approach to morality.. (shrink)
When economists pay homage to the wisdom of the distant past it is more likely that a work two decades old is being admired than one two centuries old. Economics is a science, and the sciences are noteworthy for their digestion and assimilation of the work of previous generations. Contributions remain only as accretions to the accepted body of knowledge; the writings and the writers disappear almost without trace. A conspicuous exception to this rule of professional cannibalization is Adam Smith. (...) Since 1776 he has not lacked for honors that have escaped even his most illustrious peers. Who, after all, wears a David Ricardo necktie? So to the author of The Wealth of Nations, all praise! (shrink)