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Moral Compromise

  • David Archard (a1)

A moral compromise is a compromise on moral matters; it is agreement in the face of moral disagreement but where there is agreement on the importance of consensus – namely that it secures a morally desirable outcome. It is distinguishable from other forms of agreement, and an important distinction between moral compromise with public agreement and moral compromise with public disagreement is also made. Circumstances in which the former might be permissible are outlined, and the sense in which it is allowed all things considered to agree is made clear. The relevant discussions of Dan Brock and Mary Warnock on the role of the philosopher to public policy are critically reviewed. Finally, a brief list is offered of the considerations relevant to an estimation of whether and, if so, when such compromise is allowed.

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1 Benjamin Martin, Splitting the Difference: Compromise and Integrity in Ethics and Politics (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1990), Chapter 1 ‘The Meaning of Compromise’; Golding Martin P., ‘The Nature of Compromise: A Preliminary Inquiry,’ in Pennock J. Roland and Chapman John W (eds.) Compromise in Ethics, Law, and Politics NOMOS XXI (New York: New York University Press, 1979): 325.

2 Benjamin, op. cit., Chapter 5.

3 Soren Holm discusses the nature (and in his view disadvantages) of compromise in the case of euthanasia in ‘Euthanasia: agreeing to disagree’, Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 13 (2010), 399–402.

4 Rawls John, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 15.

5 Jones might of course have been persuaded by the famous argument of Thomson J.J. in her ‘In Defence of Abortion’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (Autumn 1971), 4766.

6 Some of these are outlined in Abram M.B. and Wolf S.M., ‘Public involvement in medical ethics’, New. England Journal of Medicine 310 (1984), 628.

7 Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Fertilisation and Embryology [The Warnock Report] (London: HMSO, 1984). Available at:

8 See, for example, Lockwood Michael, ‘The Warnock Report: a philosophical appraisal’, in his edited Moral Dilemmas in Modern Medicine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985): 155186.

9 See, inter alia, Fox M., ‘Pre-Persons, Commodities or Cyborgs: The Legal Construction and representation of the Embryo’, Health Care Analysis 8 (2000): 171181; Brazier M., ‘Regulating the Reproduction Business’, Medical Law Review 7 (Summer 1999): 166193.

10 Rawls John, A Theory of Justice, Revised edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 215218.

11 For defence of this view see Swift Adam, ‘The Value of Philosophy in Nonideal Circumstances’, Social Theory and Practice, 34 (July 2008): 363387.

12 Op. cit., note 4, 36.

13 Arthur Kuflik, ‘Morality and Compromise’, in J. Roland Pennock and John W Chapman (eds) Compromise in Ethics, Law, and Politics, 51.

14 Benjamin, op. cit., 36.

15 The evidence that individuals are strongly minded to conform their publicly stated views with those of their peers was provided by the celebrated Asch conformity experiments of the 1950s. See Asch S.E., ‘Effects of group pressure on the modification and distortion of judgments’, in Guetzkow H. (ed.), Groups, leadership and men Pittsburgh (PA: Carnegie Press, 1951): 177190; Opinions and social pressure’, Scientific American, 193, (1955): 3135; Studies of independence and conformity: A minority of one against a unanimous majorityPsychological Monographs 70, (1956) (Whole no. 416).

16 Brock Dan, ‘Truth or Consequences: The Role of Philosophers in Policy-Making’, Ethics 97 (July 1987): 786791.

17 Ibid., 786.

18 Ibid., 787.

19 Op. cit., note 7, iv.

20 See, for instance, her Moral Thinking and Government Policy: The Warnock Committee on Human Embryology’, The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly. Health and Society 63 (Summer, 1985): 504522.

21 Warnock Mary, Nature and Mortality: Recollections of a philosopher in public life (London: Continuum, 2003), 98.

22 Ibid., 99.

23 Op. cit., note 7, 1.

24 Hare Richard, ‘In Vitro Fertilization and the Warnock Report’, in his Essays on Bioethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 109.

25 Norman Richard, ‘Applied Ethics: What is Applied to What?Utilitas 20 (July 2000), 133.

26 Op. cit., note 20, 510 and 519.

27 Ibid., 505.

28 Op. cit., note 24, 111–2.

29 Rescher Nicholas, ‘Philosophical Disagreement: An Essay towards Orientational Pluralism in Metaphilosophy,Review of Metaphysics 32(2) (December 1978): 217251.

30 Op. cit., note 4, 147–8.

31 Op. cit., note 13, 38–65.

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
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