Fairness as “Appropriate Impartiality” and the Problem of the Self-Serving Bias

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (3):695-709 (2016)
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Garrett Cullity contends that fairness is appropriate impartiality (See Cullity (2004) Chapters 8 and 10 and Cullity (2008)). Cullity deploys his account of fairness as a means of limiting the extreme moral demand to make sacrifices in order to aid others that was posed by Peter Singer in his seminal article ‘Famine, Affluence and Morality’. My paper is founded upon the combination of (1) the observation that the idea that fairness consists in appropriate impartiality is very vague and (2) the fact that psychological studies show the self-serving bias is especially likely to infect one’s judgements when the ideas involved are vague. I argue that Cullity’s solution to extreme moral demandingness is threatened by these findings. I then comment on whether some other theories of fairness are vulnerable to the same objection.

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Charlotte Newey
University of Reading


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