Bioethics Blogs

Is partiality justified? How/why?

by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D.

Partiality is a common phenomenon. We are partial to our significant others, children, friends, employers, colleagues, neighbors, fellow citizens, etc. In the health care setting, clinicians are partial to their patients (as opposed to non-patients or others’ patients), and even to certain patients (as opposed to other ones). This partiality can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Clinicians may order tests or procedures that their patients would benefit from or desire as opposed to being centrally concerned with stewardship of health care goods and costs. They may prioritize a particular patient for a scarce resource such as an organ (or an experimental drug…). Or, they may provide a particular patient with special treatment regarding discounts on hospital bills, flexible scheduling, extra time, etc.

Is such partiality justified, and if so, why?
Philosopher Simon Keller develops an answer to this question in his recently published book, Partiality. Keller aims to “present a theory of the reasons supporting special treatment within special relationships and explores the vexing problem of how we might reconcile the moral value of these relationships with competing claims of impartial morality.”

Keller’s presents three different accounts of partiality: the projects view, the relationships view, and the individuals view (Keller argues in favor of the individuals view).

The Projects View: On the projects view, reasons of partiality are explained by facts about you. Specifically, your (in the words of Bernard Williams) “ground projects.” Each of us has projects that are essential parts of ourselves, and those projects give us special reasons for various things, including reasons of partiality (prioritizing some people or things over others).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.