Love and (the Lack of) Alienation for the Agent-Neutralist

by Preston Werner (Hebrew University)

‘Agent-Neutralism’ in ethics is the view that we have no moral reason to favor our family, friends, co-workers, or fellow nationals over strangers. Relationships, for the agent-neutralist, are not the kinds of things that can make it morally preferable to favor someone we care about over someone we don’t know or don’t care about.[1]

The idea of agent neutralism, in my opinion, is really nothing more than taking the thought that every person deserves equal consideration seriously, without qualifications. But when I advocate for this idea to both philosophers and non-philosophers alike, it is often claimed that, clearly, something has gone wrong. Either it is not true that every person deserves equal consideration, or it is true in some way that allows for the idea that we should help those nearest and dearest to us first. For after all, being partial is an essential part of caring for someone or some group, a constitutive part of loving someone. If we can’t love without being partial, so much the worse for the idea that “every person deserves equal consideration” entails that any particular person needs to treat everyone equally.

There are many ways to try to accommodate both the idea that every person deserves equal consideration and the idea that love and care can ground reasons to favor some people over others.[2] I know that this is by and large what the vast majority of people think, and I am not directly interested in defending myself and my radical agent-neutralism as the right moral view against common sense. Rather, here, my aim is to explain how the agent-neutralist can and should think about love and caring relationships.

How can the agent-neutralist have friends, family, and loved ones, without being deeply immoral? This question isn’t off base at all. I think (partial) love is a deeply puzzling and problematic thing from a moral point of view. Love, care, and empathy are the source of our purest and most beautiful moral actions, the foundations of virtuous character, and the wellspring of our deepest connections to other human beings and animals.

However, the awe and beauty that most of us feel and see in those that we love is like a blindingly bright evaluative spotlight on one person or a group of people, at the cost of casting shadows and darkness on the rest of our evaluative environment. I find this troubling. And yet, these relationships are too meaning and identity giving, too life-fulfilling, to give up. I am not sure a life without caring relationships (of some sort) is one that we could fairly expect anyone to live.

Philosophers often speak as though it is clearly morally significant that you are friends with someone, that you are in love with someone, that someone is your child. It strikes me that this gets the lived experience of love and care exactly wrong. Love is an overwhelming urge to see the thriving and happiness of our beloved; we don’t need to dress it up in the clothes of morality to make sense of our motivations to favor or assist our beloved. It is this same deep love and care that makes us want nothing more than to see our beloved to achieve their goals as it is that makes us want to seek unfair advantages for them (sending our children to private schools, exploiting nepotism to help a family friend get a job, helping them move a body, etc.). Better to think of a deep caring and loving relationship as one that involves so deeply integrating the interests of the beloved that, insofar as love generates reasons at all, it generates ‘personal reasons’, where these are just prudential reasons of an extended sort.[3] Sometimes prudence is base and ugly, but sometimes it is an expression of deep care. But this doesn’t mean that (partial) love and care — or the motives that spring from them — are morally laudatory, even if, in some sense, love and care are an expression of prudence that often reflects something virtuous in someone’s character.

Loving relationships are clearly of great value, and part of a well lived life. I do not dispute this. But unlike those who reject Agent-Neutrality, I think there is a genuine conflict here, and it’s one we have to live with. For morality, for the Agent-Neutralist, is impartial. And we need loving and caring relationships in our lives, not merely in some basic psychological sense, but also in the normative sense that they are essential to a good life. And yet these relationships inevitably push us towards partiality.

The Agent-Neutralist accepts the conflict here rather than trying to explain it away. The very fact that love stretches beyond and motivates us out of something as or more fundamentally emotionally powerfulthan morality is not to philosophically diminish the value of love; it is to reinforce it.  We can endorse an Agent-Neutralist view which does not require us to deprive ourselves of things that make life worth living, and loving relationships are an important one of those things. At the same time, it is a mistake to think that loving someone can morally justify being partial to them. At best, I think, loving someone can provide a moral excuse for partiality. Partiality is only acceptable when and because it is part of a relationship which morality can’t demand that we sacrifice.

One implication of this view is that when we are thinking about any revolutionary restructuring of interpersonal relationships, we have a standing consideration to reduce the partiality inherent in these relationships insofar as it is possible to do so without losing the value of such relationships. Agent-Neutralists should imagine relationships where all parties of the relationship are aware of this conflict between love and morality, and are able to think about considerations like this when they think about how best to express their love and care for their beloved. This is not an easy question. But it is a question that we should grapple with. The ways we express love, insofar as it is possible, should not conflict with our impartial goals to treat everyone as equal. This won’t be possible; that is the point. But there will be better and worse ways to do this.

If this is the right way to think about the relationship between love and morality, then the Agent-Neutralist has to accept and engage in a lifelong project to balance and manage the conflict that inevitably arises between our love for those nearest and dearest, and our obligation to care about the well-being of everyone equally. This is an interesting feature of the view, but it is not unique — it is nothing more than another instance of our lifelong challenge with balancing our own well-being with our duties to others. It just happens to be a very striking instance of this challenge.


[1]  The vast majority of people who are agent-neutralists are traditional consequentialists. I am agnostic about consequentialism, but I think there are strong overlooked egalitarian reasons to be an agent-neutralist, which I won’t go into here.

[2]  Even most Agent-Neutralists endorse this view, by arguing that it is usually the case that the best way to maximize impartial value, and thus partiality is, at least usually, indirectly justified. I am inclined to think that these arguments work in less cases than they initially seem to, for reasons I can’t get into here.

[3]  This is a bit like Susan Wolf’s (1999) ‘personal reasons’, although unlike Wolf, the Agent-Neutralist favors the ‘view from nowhere’ conception of our authoritative reasons.

30 Replies to “Love and (the Lack of) Alienation for the Agent-Neutralist

  1. I agree with you that it would be overly hasty to immediately interpret the partiality we feel for friends and loved ones as providing a moral reason to be so partial. Better to start with the less contentious understanding that our partiality presents us with reasons, but not necessarily moral reasons, to tend to those we love first. But imagine the person who wants there be to a tolerably close tie between what we have reason to do and what morality asks. Such a person might feel the need to moralize our partiality lest our reasons and morality grow too far apart. Do you worry that if we do not moralize our reasons to be partial, our reasons and morality will grow too far apart?

  2. Hi Preston,

    You write: “Philosophers often speak as though it is clearly morally significant that you are friends with someone, that you are in love with someone, that someone is your child. It strikes me that this gets the lived experience of love and care exactly wrong. Love is an overwhelming urge to see the thriving and happiness of our beloved; we don’t need to dress it up in the clothes of morality to make sense of our motivations to favor or assist our beloved.”

    I agree that we don’t need to dress up love in moral clothes to make she of our loving motivations in good cases. But what about cases in which people fail to treat their near and dear well? I think these are the cases that move many to, “speak as though it is clearly morally significant that you are friends with someone, that you are in love with someone, that someone is your child.”

    For example, the caricatured abusive alcoholic parent or deadbeat dad exhibits a moral failure and this failure does not seem to be fully explained by the agent-neutral account of morality.

    A case: take the Doubly bad Dad who harms his kids and also harms some stranger. Assume the agent neutral bads are equal. The Dad is doubly bad, but visiting the harm on his kids seems morally bad for an extra reason, which is naturally explained by appeal to the *moral* significance of his relationship.

  3. In addition:
    Arguably, a good loving person will be disposed to be responsive to the special relationship-relative moral badness of harming, betraying, not benefiting, etc loved ones. This might be manifest in emotional dispositions (e.g. to feel guilt, anger, etc) and in deliberative/motivational ones as well (practical necessities or silencing effects).

  4. A side issue, but I think part of the problem is that because of the referred to shadow that can be cast over others with whom we don’t share an intimate bond, we tend to start at the wrong level when it comes to our care for others. Let’s say that the standard love and care we extend to our circle starts at this level: —. That would mean that if we’re exercising partiality bias, everyone else would be treated at this level: __. Instead, the level of sufficient care we should extend to all should start at the level of care we provide to our close loved ones; preference to tending to the needs our close ones can be asterisked: —*.

    Further, since we’re usually in better position to tend to the needs of those with whom we’re closest, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that we’d do exactly this and I don’t see how that in itself would equate to bias in the negative.

  5. I definitely agree with accepting the conflict rather than explaining it away or sweeping it under the rug. I also think that those who claim the problem is unique to consequentialism, or other impartial ethical theories, are sweeping the conflict under the rug of what is normally a form of ethical pluralism that makes the conflict invisible. Said another way, I think impartial obligations have to play a powerful role in these theories, even if these obligations need not always be overriding, and a powerful role is all that is required for the conflict and potential for alienation to get off the ground. As far a solution, when I work on this I really like referring back to Elizabeth Ashford’s point about personal relationships being a necessary condition for the kinds of creatures we are to be socialized to care about the interests of others who are unrelated to us. We only get to ask the question, and appreciate the conflict, because we (hopefully) learn basic capacities for empathy in the context of close, caring relationships. Just my 2cents; thanks for the post!

  6. Hi David,
    Thanks for your comment!
    I think I could read your worry in one of two ways.

    First, you wonder why someone who wants to keep a tolerably close tie between the reasons we have and what we are morally permitted/obliged to do – shouldn’t they be pushed to moralize their reasons of partiality? I am not so sure – for after all, do you feel a similar pull in favor of moralizing your (traditional) reasons of prudence? Do we need to moralize getting what we want or taking the means to our ends to make such reasons compatible with morality? I’m not sure I see why this is essential to make sense of the kinds of reasons we have.

    But this suggests a second reading of your worry: I know that many philosophers now think – and perhaps it is now the standard view – that the distinction between moral and other kinds of reasons is relatively superficial, and that at the most fundamental level, there are just *reasons*.
    I reject this standard view, but let me play along. I still think there could be a deep structural difference between reasons of special relations and the agent-neutral reasons – namely, the reasons of special relations can’t *justify* partiality, but *excuse* it. Strictly speaking, I suppose such a view would no longer be agent-neutralist, because you have some agent-relative reasons. But it is still in the spirit of the view I defended above, since all justifying reasons remain agent-neutral.

  7. Hi Brad,
    Thanks for your feedback!

    Yes, this is an interesting motivation against agent-neutralism, and I certainly feel the pull!

    When I was talking through these ideas with a friend* recently, she pointed out that philosophers seem to ask of caring relationships two things that are in tension with each other. First, we intuitively think that caring relationships generate moral duties and responsibilities. But second, we tend to think it reflects poorly on someone whom we are in a caring relationship with if they perform these duties out of a cold, calculated sense of obligation.
    So its almost though what we intuitively hold people to account for not just performing their caring-relationship duties, but also for doing them *not out of a sense of duty*! And that is quite odd indeed.
    My thought is that this can help to show that what is going on in our judgments of the Doubly Bad Dad is that, with the stranger, we blame him for harming them, while with the kids, we blame him for harming them *as well as* reflecting poorly on his character in another way, since he fails to have the feeling of love and care for his children that we would expect of a psychologically ‘normal’ person. So I think in the kinds of cases you are worried about, the Agent Neutralist should explain these cases in something like ‘agent-blame’ (a la Williams’ ‘agent-regret’).

    * Its only fair to point out that that friend is Bar Luzon, to whom I owe this point.

  8. Hi Lori,
    Thanks for your comment!

    I am inclined to agree with you that it would be better if, generally speaking, we raised the level of care that we had for strangers. And in fact, I think this would be greatly preferable to somehow lowering our level of care for those we know personally. I apologize if my post made this unclear.

    As for the second point – this is a standard agent-neutralist way to maneuver out of this problem. I think it goes back to Mill even (though I’m not sure). I think this kind of response is sometimes, perhaps even often, the right one. However, two qualifications:
    1. I think it is not correct, as a matter of contingent fact, nearly often enough to align agent-neutral consequentialism with common sense morality, that the best way to maximize is to prefer our nearest and dearest. Consider any nice thing I may do with my time or money for a loved one, and now we can trot in the classic Singer-style arguments – if my birthday gift or nice dinner with my partner or with friends could have gone to buy a few malaria nets, then I just don’t think its right that this classic response can justify the birthday gift or nice dinner.

    2. While I stuck it in a footnote and haven’t yet defended this view in print, I think that there are quite plausible overlooked *non-consequentialist* arguments in favor of Agent-Neutralism. In particular, and in a nutshell, I think agent-relative moral reasons are incompatible with egalitarianism given the unequal distribution of moral consideration that they would entail. Of course, that would take much more than a blogpost comment to argue for, so I don’t expect to have convinced you!

  9. Hi Scott,
    Thanks for that! I wholly agree with you. I think there is a lot of interesting work to be done reflecting on the relationship between our psychologies as individuals who need social dependence on a relatively small number of people and our impartial reasons. As you can probably tell by this post – and as I think you’ll agree, at least given some of your published work – I think ethicists often sidestep these interesting and puzzling questions by ‘common-sensing’ up their moral theory in a way that results in a sort of status quo bias. I suppose this short little blogpost is a small instance of that kind of work.

    By the way, since we don’t know each other, let me take this opportunity to say your work is great and I am hoping to incorporate some of it in a paper I’m working on which is related to this post!

  10. Following up on David’s comment: You seem to hold that there are no moral reasons to favor our family and friends but that there are prudential reasons (which are non-moral reasons) to favor our family and friends. And I would assume that you also hold that there are moral reasons to promote the impersonal good. So, one may wonder: “Do you think that the prudential reasons that one has to favor one’s family and friends can prevent the moral reasons that one has to promote the impersonal good from generating a moral requirement to promote the impersonal good?” If you answer ‘no’, then it seems that one could be morally required to promote the impersonal good but have most reason, all things considered, to favor one’s family and friends instead. And, in that case, we might wonder why we, qua rational beings, should be any more concerned about what morality requires than with what etiquette requires. If you answer ‘yes’, then it seems agent-neutralism is much less controversial than you made it out to be. For, in that case, all that it’s saying is that it’s not morally best for us to favor our family and friends, which allows that it’s morally permissible for us to favor our family and friends.

  11. Hi Preston,
    Thanks for the kind words! I’m revisiting these issues for something I’m working on this fall, and part of it will be a claim that acknowledging the conflict between impartial duties and our personal relationships ought to be viewed as a strength rather than a weakness of an ethical theory in virtue of it exhibiting greater explanatory power. I’ll be interested to check out your paper when you’re finished, and I certainly agree about the danger of status quo bias, even if we sometimes genuinely ought to accommodate our most powerful common-sense intuitions. A tough balance, for sure. Take care,

  12. Hey, thanks for getting back to me.

    I had in mind more the former sort of worry. And I guess I do think there is a similar pressure to either moralize the reasons one has to get what one wants (or reasons of prudence) or to allow that such reasons can powerfully conflict with the reasons of morality. I myself tend to be able to live without moral rationalism, but some don’t seem to have the knack.

  13. Hi Preston,

    Can you say a bit about how your view diverges from sophisticated consequentialism as defended by Peter Railton? I see nothing about maximizing here (though you seem open to this being a part of your view in your response to Lori), but I’m wondering how it diverges in other respects. Both you and Railton seem to accept that one may permissibly perform specific actions that promote the interests of a loved one even if one could have better promoted the impartial good with some other act at the time. You also seem to agree that such permissibility is limited by a requirement that the relationships in question be morally acceptable by some encompassing, general criterion. You seem to be referring to such a criterion in saying that “Partiality is only acceptable when and because it is part of a relationship which morality can’t demand that we sacrifice.” Railton would agree, and for him the relevant criterion is that the relationship in question be part of a life that is most likely to promote the impartial good in the long run. What is your general criterion?

  14. Hi Preston,

    Interesting. I want to hear more about this agent-blame and why it is not naturally interpreted as a form of responsiveness to agent relative moral factors.

    I would think that in many of these cases the agent would feel warranted guilt, the victim would feel warranted resentment, and the agent would feel pressure to apologize or engage in some other form of moral repair work. Am I right in thinking that these are not aspects of agent-regret of the sort you have in mind?

    Or is the strategy to include those kinds of “relational moral” aspects of the relevant psychological phenomena but to deny that they provide reasons to posit agent-relative moral factors?

  15. Thank you for your response, Preston. I’m appreciating the discussions and have some more thoughts.

    1. I think Singer’s argument logically holds but doesn’t hold practically.
    2. I think a view of treating all with a certain standard of care satisfies egalitarian conditions.
    3. I think extending that care toward those within our proximity (broadly defined, i.e. offering pedestrians rides on cold days when out driving) is the most efficient and effective way to exercise that egalitarianism thus satisfying the practical criteria lacking in Singer.
    4. Societies of agents exercising their part to benefit while avoiding harms within their direct capacity and Influence (as noted in 3) would satisfy the needs of utilitarianism in a practical way.

  16. Hi Douglas,
    Thanks so much for this, it really helps me think through my view.

    In response to your question: “Do you think that the prudential reasons that one has to favor one’s family and friends can prevent the moral reasons that one has to promote the impersonal good from generating a moral requirement to promote the impersonal good?”

    I think the answer is ‘yes’. But, as you point out, this appears to take a lot of the bite out of agent-neutralism.
    It certainly takes some of the bite out of agent-neutralism, insofar as it entails that sometimes it is permissible to favor our friends and family over strangers. But I still think the view retains a lot of bite. That is because it places the (theoretical) burden on us when we would be partial to justify it in terms of some particular action(s) being crucial to a relationship that is itself essential to a good life. That will manifest both at the level of (a) which relationships can excuse partiality as well as (b) which actions within some partiality excusing relationship are permitted.

  17. Hi Jordan,
    Thanks for this!

    I have to sheepishly admit that it has been a couple of years since I have read the relevant Railton, so I apologize if I am misremembering. I think in short that Railton’s sophisticated consequentialism has aspects that look similar to the view I’m defending above, but there are a couple of differences.

    First, as you said, Railton’s criteria for a partiality-justifying relationship is one that would tend to promote the impartial good in the long run. I’m inclined to think that this requirement would justify far fewer relationships than Railton expects them to. (In work in progress, I argue that most relationships, as a matter of fact, re-entrench (impartially) unacceptable inequalities.) So if we are looking for a way to accommodate *any* partiality in our moral theory, I think we need something else. I don’t have the details of this thought worked out, but generally I want to excuse partiality not in terms of impartial good at all, but in terms of the limits of self-sacrifice that a moral theory can ask of us. This is why partiality for me, unlike for Railton, is *excused* rather than *justified*. It is not normally morally best to be partial, but it is acceptable since morality can’t require people to live lives not worth living.

    I also think – though I wasn’t very clear in my post – that these considerations against partiality apply not only to the *types* of relationships that can be excused for the agent-neutralist, but also to the token actions within those relationships. So while it is morally excusable to, for example, buy your partner a birthday present, it may not be morally excusable to spend an excess amount of money to buy them a yacht, when such frivolous spending is not required for a full expression of your love.

  18. Hi Brad,
    I wish I had much more to say! I will say that it seems to me that this is exactly the right place to press on the agent-neutralist. And while I am about to offer a response, I should say, take it with several hundred grains of salt, as I am very much *not* up on the blame literature.

    I think these questions about agent-blame are the right place to press in part because this is the kind of thing that makes me want to say things that tend to never convince anyone, but here it goes: I think that one dimension of our praise and blame practices track something other than direct instances of wrong/right-doing, but rather something like psychological normalcy. When people have psychological dispositions which are odd, especially in ways that depart from the standard good person, we develop a sort of moral distrust for the person, because we can’t fully understand their motives.
    So when you think of the Deadbeat Dad, who doesn’t appear to love his children, we have a reaction of revulsion. Why? I take it that this is because we think that the most natural psychological profile we can build for such a person is that he is extremely selfish and doesn’t care about other people. For if you don’t care about your own children, how could we expect you to care about others!
    So it is one thing for someone to be blameworthy for wrong-doing. Agent-blame, as I am (tentatively!) thinking about it, is about having a character which gives us indirect evidence that one is disposed to perform harmful actions, and so it is more like a moral distrust than blame in the classic sense. But of course ‘classic’ blame and agent-blame often will come together, as when Deadbeat Dad neglects his children. The challenge is teasing these apart in such cases.

  19. Hi Lori,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I think I largely agree with what you say, and I suspect any disagreements we have will arise in particular cases. For example, I suspect we will disagree about whether certain cases of relationships are compatible with egalitarian principles.
    But that is all fair enough.


  20. Just to be clear, I see moves of the “Demandingness” sort as just such attempts to moralize (that is, to make relevant to morality) the reasons we have to be prudent.

  21. Hi Preston. Two quick comments. Firstly, as an anti-neutralist, I feel no pull towards the idea that everyone deserves equal consideration, except in special contexts (such as ‘in the eyes of the law’ with ‘everyone’ restricted to ‘citizens in the relevant jurisdiction’). A related idea, that everyone has equal worth, seems far more attractive, but also to permit far more latitude in the specification of deontic principles. Secondly, one concern with packaging partial reasons as prudential reasons is that there are so many different kinds of ‘partial’ reasons (that is, reasons to pursue outcomes not just as a function of their agent-neutral value): e.g. personal projects such as gorilla-saving, professional reasons such as helping my students more than yours, institutional reasons such as paying taxes that benefit people in my state but not yours, etc.

  22. Thank you, Preston. Regarding whether or not I think tending to a loved one satisfies egalitarian conditions: yes. If we say that egalitarian sufficiency is at this line: ——-, provided we satisfy that standard, then the extra care we give to loved ones is simply supererogatory, the asterisk, like this: ——-*.

  23. Hi Preston,

    That seems like a line to develop for sure. Naturally the response will be to say that there is a moral dimension to standard of being a good person and to question the idea that statistical normalcy is the complete way to think about it. Have you read Pamela Hieronymi’s new book on Strawson? If not, you might look it up because she argues that statistical normalcy does play a role in setting standards for accountability (according to Strawson). I also expect that the questions she raises about Strawson’s social naturalist metaphysics of morality in the later part of the book would be useful in thinking about how to develop and defend your approach. Well, just thought I would mention this — I was lucky to recently interview her about the book so it popped to mind! Good going back and forth.

  24. Hi David,
    Ah, ok, if you see demandingness considerations as moralizing the prudential reasons, then maybe I am subject to the kind of worry you raised. I’m still not sure I see why – is it just that any reasons that can play a role in what we are all things considered permitted to do will count as moral?

  25. Hi Barry,
    Thanks for your thoughts!
    I don’t have a lot to say with respect to your first comment. I certainly didn’t expect to convince anyone who was already a committed anti-neutralist. Suffice it to say that I don’t share your intuitions! I think there is plenty of plausible space for a moral theory that is anti-neutralist stemming from a principle of equal worth.

    Second, while it is a huge can of worms, I think I’m more optimistic than you about reducing these wide variety of ‘partial’ reasons to either (a) direct or indirect ‘subjectivist’ reasons, or (b) derivatively impartial reasons that arise from institutional structures which are agent-neutrally best.

  26. Thanks Brad, I will definitely check that out!

    Just one clarification – by ‘normal’ I meant normal not in a statistical sense, but in some folk normative sense about what we expect to be the psychological dispositions of decent people. (The sense that people have in mind when they say “the normal is normative”.)

    In any case, thanks so much for your feedback!

  27. Thanks, Preston. I do think that your concession takes a lot of the bite out of agent-neutralism. Indeed, we might think that your agent-neutralism is, in a sense, even less demanding than commonsense morality. For, on commonsense morality, there seems to be an asymmetry between the self and others such that the fact that your φ-ing would increase someone else’s pleasure is itself a moral reason for you to φ but the fact that your ψ-ing would increase your own pleasure is not itself a moral reason for you to ψ. Thus, on commonsense morality, it is thought to be morally noble for me to give you my last two aspirins so as to alleviate your mild headache rather than use them myself to alleviate my somewhat more severe headache. So, whereas agent-neutralism holds that I would be morally required to I take the two aspirins myself, commonsense morality holds that I’m morally permitted to give them to you instead — indeed, that’s what would be morally best. In other words, whereas commonsense morality doesn’t necessarily require you to give any weight to your promoting your own pleasure, agent-neutralism requires that you give it as much weight as you do to your promoting the equal amount of pleasure for someone else.

  28. Hi Douglas,
    That is certainly a difference between agent-neutralism and common sense morality. On the other hand, common sense morality also says that it is perfectly fine – and perhaps even supererogatory – to buy lavish gifts for your friends, to put your children at advantages over other children of less wealthy parents, to be more concerned about the suffering of our fellow nationals than the suffering of strangers across the world, etc. Agent neutralism, even of the form I endorse, would probably reject all of these instances of partiality.
    And however much bite it takes out of the view, I think I’ll be happy if even the view shifts the burden of proof on actions and relationships that are partial, even if that burden of proof can often be met.

  29. Hi Preston,

    Very cool stuff! You might be interested to know — or you might already know — that some agent-neutralists like partiality, but justify it in a very different way to your view that partiality is excusably wrong.

    (1) Frank Jackson (in “Decision-Theoretic Consequentialism”) grounds partial permissions in the higher expected value of helping someone you know more about, rather than a distant stranger with more to lose. (Of course, in cases of full certainty, he thinks partiality is immoral.)

    (2) As Kamm points out (in Morality, Mortality Vol. 1), Taurek believes in agent-neutral permissions to favor people. I may favor my own welfare over the greater good of others — but so can my friends favor me, and even a stranger could. If I can save my life rather than 5 others’ (or my arm rather than another’s life), then *anyone* can put themselves in my position and help me. Taurek’s view was basically ignored for decades because, as Parfit pointed out, agent-relativism was the orthodoxy when Taurek was writing. But now some people are coming around to Taurekian views, like Kieran Setiya in “Love and the Value of a Life.” In particular, I think it’s worth noting that, for Taurekians, valuing everybody equally doesn’t mean aggregating like a utilitarian.

    Thanks for the interesting post!

  30. Hi Daniel,
    Thanks for this, and sorry I missed your comment earlier!

    I do know about the Jackson-style defense of partial permissions – it has a long history, and I think, while it helps a bit, it still leaves us far away from a ‘common-sense’ view (for better or worse). That, of course, would require an argument that I hope to give in print at some point, but that’s what I think!

    I did know about the Taurek, but I didn’t realize people were picking him back up again, thanks especially for the Setiya reference, I’ll check it out! Much appreciated!

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