Partiality and Impartiality:
Morality, Special Relationships, and the Wider World
The first volume of papers arising from the project described below was published by Oxford University Press in 2010.
Edited by Brian Feltham and John Cottingham
1. Brad Hooker, ‘When is Impartiality Morally Appropriate?’
2. Gerald F. Gaus, ‘The Demands of Impartiality and the Evolution of Morality.’
3. John Cottingham, ‘Impartiality and Ethical Formation.’
4. Maximilian de Gaynesford, ‘The Bishop, The Chambermaid, The Wife, and The Ass:
What difference does it make if something is mine?’
5. Samuel Scheffler, ‘Morality and Reasonable Partiality.’
6. Sarah Stroud, ‘Partiality, Projects, and Plural Agency.’
7. Stephen Darwall, ‘Responsibility within Relations.’
8. Niko Kolodny, ‘What Relationships Justify Partiality?
General Considerations and Problem Cases.’
9. Michael Ridge, ‘Fairness and Non-Compliance.’
10. David Estlund, ‘I Will If You Will: Leveraged Enhancements and Distributive Justice.’
Impartiality and Partiality in Ethics
Competing Ethical Frameworks and the Prospects for Convergence
Three-year research project 2005-2008
Department of Philosophy
University of Reading
Reading RG6 6AA, England
From 2005-2008, the Philosophy Department at the University of Reading obtained funding from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council for a major research project on impartiality and partiality in ethics. Three international conferences were held, one in each year of the project, together with a series of seminars (eighteen in all), featuring work by leading philosophers from around the world, together with contributions from up-and-coming researchers. The project was co-ordinated by a team of moral philosophers at the University of Reading: John Cottingham (Project Director), Philip Stratton-Lake (Associate Director), Jonathan Dancy, Brad Hooker and David Oderberg, together with a specially appointed Post-doctoral Fellow, Brian Feltham. Two major volumes of original papers have resulted from the project, published by Oxford University Press; the first volume (details above) has already appeared, and the second, Partiality and Moral Theory, edited by Brian Feltham and Philip Stratton-Lake, is forthcoming (OUP).
The last few decades have seen a growing interest in the concepts of impartiality and partiality and their role in ethical theory. From the perspective of virtue ethics and the theory of the good life, it has been argued that favourable treatment for those who stand in some special relationship to oneself (friends, family etc.), and perhaps also for oneself and one’s own projects, is ethically justifiable: certainly permissible and possibly even required. Consequentialist and Kantian approaches, by contrast, have often been concerned to emphasise the idea of impartiality as basic to the moral point of view, and there has been much debate about whether these alternative approaches should endeavour to accommodate, or alternatively to resist, the demands of partiality. The problems and tensions inherent in this debate have a long ancestry: for example, partialistic elements are prominent in much of Aristotelian ethics, while a strongly impartialist perspective is discernible in some of Plato’s writings; or again, the writings of medieval and early-modern philosophers from Aquinas down to Spinoza and beyond reflect the dual concerns within the Judaeo-Christian moral outlook both for personal affection and commitment on the one hand, and on the other hand for equal care and impartial treatment for all mankind. Many of these issues surface in varying forms in present-day ethical theory. The project was designed to address the question of how far there can be a coherent philosophical framework for reconciling the ethical demands of impartiality and partiality, and the question of whether the various approaches mentioned above can be seen to converge, or whether they turn out to represent ultimately incompatible perspectives.