Reasonable Partiality in Professional Relationships


First, two aspects of the partiality issue are identified: (1) Is it right/reasonable for professionals to favour their clients’ interests over either those of other individuals or those of society in general? (2) Are special non-universalisable obligations attached to certain professional roles?

Second, some comments are made on the notions of partiality and reasonableness. On partiality, the assumption that only two positions are possible – a detached universalism or a partialist egoism – is challenged and it is suggested that partiality, e.g. to family members, lies between these two positions, being neither a form of egoism, nor of impersonal detachment. On reasonableness, it is pointed out that ‘reasonable’ is an ambiguous concept, eliding the notions of the ‘morally right’ and the ‘rational.’

Third, a series of practical examples are taken from counselling, medicine, law, education and religious practice and some common principles are abstracted from the cases and discussed. These include truth-telling, confidentiality, conflicts of interest between clients and particular others and between clients and society. It is concluded that while partiality can be justified as a useful tool in standard cases, particular circumstances can affect the final verdict.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Blum, L., {Against Deriving Particularity}, B. Hooker and M. Little (eds.), 2000, pp. 205–226.

  2. Carse, A., Impartial Principle and Moral Context: Securing a Place for the Particular in Ethical Theory, Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 23(2) (1998), pp. 153–169; in The Moral Contours of Empathy: Reasonable Partiality in Asymmetrical Dependency Relationships}. Paper read to Amsterdam Conference on Reasonable Partiality, October 2003.

  3. Gellner, E.A., Ethics and Logic, in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Vol. 55. 1955, pp. 1954–1955.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Gillett, G., AIDS and Confidentiality, Journal of Applied Philosophy 4 (1987), p. 15; in B. Almond (ed.), AIDS and Confidentiality: The Doctor’s Dilemma. AIDS: A Moral Issue: The Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects. London: Macmillan, 1990, 1996, pp. 46–55.

  5. Gilligan, C., In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Gomberg, P., Patriotism is Like Racism, Ethics 101 (1990), pp. 144–150.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Hooker, B., and Little M. (eds.), Moral Particularism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Nagel, T., Equality and Partiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Rawls, J., A Theory of Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Scanlon, T.M., Contractualism and Utilitarianism, in A. Sen and B. Williams (eds.), 1982, pp. 103–128.

  11. Sen, A., and Williams, B. (eds.), Utilitarianism and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Brenda Almond.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Almond, B. Reasonable Partiality in Professional Relationships. Ethic Theory Moral Prac 8, 155–168 (2005).

Download citation

Key Words

  • partiality
  • professional relationships
  • reasonableness