The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 17–35 | Cite as

The Nature and Ethics of Indifference

  • Hallvard Lillehammer


Indifference is sometimes said to be a virtue. Perhaps more frequently it is said to be a vice. Yet who is indifferent; to what; and in what way is poorly understood, and frequently subject to controversy and confusion. This paper presents a framework for the interpretation and analysis of ethically significant forms of indifference in terms of how subjects of indifference are variously related to their objects in different circumstances; and how an indifferent orientation can be either more or less dynamic, or more or less sensitive to the nature and state of its object. The resulting analysis is located in a wider context of moral psychology and ethical theory; in particular with respect to work on the virtues of care, empathy and other forms of affective engagement. During the course of this discussion, a number of recent claims associated with the ethics of care and empathy are shown to be either misleading or implausible.


Care Detachment Empathy Indifference Vice Virtue 



I am grateful to audiences at Cambridge, Hertfordshire, Birkbeck (Cumberland Lodge) and Sussex for questions and comments aspects of this paper, and to James Laidlaw, Fabian Freyenhagen, Maike Albertzart, Christine Tiefensee and Dónall Mc Ginley for some helpful suggestions at an early stage.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BirkbeckUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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