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The Ethics of Partiality - Ancient and Modern Perspective

Partiality VorschauOrganisation: Philipp Brüllmann (MUSAΦ) & Monika Betzler (ZEPP)

Date: 29 & 30 September 2022

Venue: ZEPP (Center for Ethics and Philosophy in Practice), Main Building, Room M 210

Registration: Bruellmann@lrz.uni-muenchen.de


The topic of partiality – the assumption that special relationships ground special duties – has received considerable interest in the ethical debates of the past decades. The thrust of this interest, however, has changed. While the aim of earlier authors, such as G.E.M. Anscombe or Bernard Williams, was to defend partial reasons or duties against the predominance of an impartially conceived morality, we now observe a trend towards a more ambitious ethics of partiality. This ethics of partiality assumes that partiality is not just an integral part of an adequate ethical theory but rather its basis. Moral duties should always be seen as directed towards other individuals, moral requirements should be given a relational interpretation. Such relational theories of morality are amongst the most interesting developments in contemporary ethics.

The reference to ancient theories has always played an important role in discussions of partiality. Since ancient ethics gives much more attention to relationships than does modern moral philosophy, it is an obvious source of inspiration for any engagement with partial reasons. Modern accounts of friendship, for instance, are heavily influenced by Aristotelian ideas. We believe, however, that the latest developments in the debates on partiality call for another look at ancient ethics: a look guided precisely by the notion of an ethics of partiality as just outlined. For it seems – this is the basic idea – that ancient ethical theories already presuppose what the new ethics of partiality wants to establish: a relational perspective on questions of morality, a perspective that takes partiality to be an integral part of our ethical lives and that discusses ethical questions by drawing on the different relationships in which we stand to each other, ranging from the relationship between parents and children to that in a community of all human beings.

The conference aims to spell out this basic idea by approaching it from different, both ancient and modern, angles and to thus add a new perspective to both modern debates on partiality and our picture of ancient ethics.