Altruism, Impartiality and Moral Demands

Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 9-33, 2002

Posted: 22 Aug 2006

See all articles by Jurgen De Wispelaere

Jurgen De Wispelaere

McGill University - BioMedical Ethics Unit

Abstract

Advocates of altruism maintain that altruism is an inherently beneficial and, therefore, morally desirable motivational disposition towards furthering other people's good. In this paper I dispute this claim by showing various ways in which altruism might come into conflict with plausible moral demands. The underlying problem is always one of moral myopia, an altruistic blind spot that interferes with altruism's capacity to track moral demands. To resolve the moral dilemmas associated with altruism, I argue, we need to embed altruistic dispositions in a more comprehensive moral framework. I propose that a theory of impartiality might succeed in embedding altruism in a way that avoids the problems outlined in this paper, in addition to allowing room for altruistic motivations to play a genuine part. The main purpose of this paper is to draw attention to the complexities associated with the moral assessment of altruistic acts and choices.

Keywords: altruism, impartiality, ethics, moral dilemma, motivations

JEL Classification: D63, D64

Suggested Citation

De Wispelaere, Jurgen, Altruism, Impartiality and Moral Demands. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 9-33, 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=925725

Jurgen De Wispelaere (Contact Author)

McGill University - BioMedical Ethics Unit ( email )

3647 Peel Street
Montreal, Quebec H3A 1X1
Canada

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