A TAXONOMY OF MORAL VIEWS THAT JUSTIFY AGENT-RELATIVE PARTIALITY
A morality that endorses agent-relative partiality endorses the idea that one morally ought to
some degree to favor persons to whom one has special ties. Favoring a person is acting for
her benefit when doing something else instead would produce a better outcome. Candidate
social relationships that might establish special ties include the relation of parent to child,
sibling to sibling, friend to friend, lover to lover, spouse to spouse--also fellow work colleagues,
fellow members of a community, fellow countrymen, people with shared interests and projects,
people who share a religious faith, or an ethnic or tribal identity, or race, or skin color, or sex,
or sexual orientation.
As described above, partiality is a requirement. A morality might also permit, but not require,
certain forms of partiality. The question would be: May I favor my friend over strangers or
must I do so?
I treat partiality as involved in decisions about whom to aid, but one might also embrace
partiality involving decisions concerning whom to harm. One might hold, for example, that the
partiality appropriate to one’s children justifies infringing the right’s of other people (stealing
from them, or assaulting them, for example) when doing so is necessary to save one’s child
from a harm of size X when it would not be justified to violate the same right s of other people
to the same degree to save a person not one’s child from a harm of size X.
Some views that endorse some partiality, as requirement or permission:
1. Self-referential altruism
In deciding whom to help by one’s actions and omissions, one
morally ought to give greater weight to achieving a gain for a person, the greater the degree of
psychological connection between that person and oneself. Think of the psychological
connections that normally obtain between a person at one time and that same person at a
later time. Some of these connections might hold, to various degrees, between oneself and
other persons. On this view, one normally owes more by way of concern and beneficent action
toward close family members and friends, less to neighbors and colleagues, less than that to
members of one’s community, less still to mere acquaintances, least of all to strangers.
2. Samuel Scheffler
(not a course author) has written that if one values a relationship one has
with another person intrinsically and not merely instrumentally, one is thereby committed to
being willing to favor that person over others to some degree, in some contexts, depending on
the nature of the relationship. If one were not willing to favor those to whom one stands in
social relationships at all, one would not value any of these relationships except as tools to
one’s own ends.
3. Richard Miller