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Impartiality is a principle of justice holding that decisions should be based on objective criteria, rather then on the basis of bias, prejudice, or preferring the benefit to one person over another for improper reasons.
Philosophical concepts of impartiality
According to Bernard Gert, "A is impartial in respect R with regard to group G if and only if A's actions in respect R are not influenced at all by which member(s) of G benefit or are harmed by these actions." (Gert 1995, p.104).
Impartiality does not require, however, that individuals be treated equally under all circumstances. People or groups should be treated differently if they merit different treatment according to external and objective morality. For example, most legal systems seek to treat murderers differently than innocent persons. This is not a result of partiality, however, because it appeals to an external, objective standard -- the law -- rather than bias or prejudice.
Thus, what impartiality requires is not that everyone receive equal treatment, but rather that everyone be treated as an equal (Dworkin 1977, p. 227).
Morally admirable partiality
Philosophers disagree as to whether or not it is possible for partiality to be morally admirable in some circumstances. Partialists believe partiality may be admirable in certain situations, such as loyalty to spouse, family, and country as against others. Impartialists believe that such loyalties are not morally admirable, but instead all people should be treated equally regardless of one's relation to them. A third view holds that impartiality is only necessary when an individual acts in a certain capacity, such as that of a judge, an umpire, or a public official. Under this view, impartiality is not a universal moral imperative.
For a consideration of the various external standards according to which decisions may be judged, see objective morality.
Religious concepts of impartiality
- "These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment." --Proverbs 24:23, KJV
- "For there is no respect of persons with God." --Romans 2:11, KJV
- "But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons." --Colossians 3:25, KJV
- "My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim that you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people more than others? For instance, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in shabby clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, 'You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor' -- well, doesn't this discrimination show that you are guided by wrong motives? Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn't God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren't they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? And yet, you insult the poor man! Isn't it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren't they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? Yes indeed, it is good when you truly obey our Lord's royal command found in the scriptures: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you pay special attention to the rich, you are committing a sin, for you are guilty of breaking that law." -- James 2:1-9, NLT
- "The Absolute Criterion of Justice and Equity, was sent down by Allah so that people may conduct themselves with equity." Quran, 52:25.
- "Establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance. Maintain the balance with fairness and justice, without differentiating anybody's rights and obligations." Quran 55:9.
- "Truth, O Bharata, as it exists in all the world, is of thirteen kinds. The forms that Truth assumes are impartiality, self-control, forgiveness, modesty, endurance, goodness, renunciation, contemplation, dignity, fortitude, compassion, and abstention from injury." -- Truth, The Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Section CLXII.
- There are seven factors of enlightenment: clear memory, the exact investigation of things, energy and sympathy, tranquility, impartiality, and a disposition for concentration. The last four factors are the "four sublime states," and are prerequisites for escaping cyclic existence. (Occhiogrosso 96)
- Gert, Bernard. 1995. "Moral Impartiality." Midwest Studies in Philosophy XX: 102-127.
- Dworkin, Ronald. 1977. Taking Rights Seriously. Harvard University Press.
- Occhiogrosso, Peter. "Buddhism," The Joy of Sects: a spirited guide to the world's religious traditions , 1991 p.84
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