Philosophical Studies

, Volume 173, Issue 3, pp 757–779 | Cite as

How to be impartial as a subjectivist

  • Emad H. Atiq


The metaethical subjectivist claims that there is nothing more to a moral disagreement than a conflict in the desires of the parties involved. Recently, David Enoch has argued that metaethical subjectivism has unacceptable ethical implications. If the subjectivist is right about moral disagreement, then it follows, according to Enoch, that we cannot stand our ground in moral disagreements without violating the demands of impartiality. For being impartial, we’re told, involves being willing to compromise in conflicts that are merely due to competing desires—the parties to such conflicts should decide what to do on the basis of a coin flip. I suggest that Enoch is mistaken in his conception of what it means to be impartial. Once impartiality is properly construed, standing one’s ground in desire-based conflicts, whether or not moral values are at stake in the conflict, is consistent with being impartial. I defend a view on which impartiality can be understood in terms of features of our desiring attitudes. An agent acts impartially in desire-based conflicts whenever she is motivated by a final (i.e. non-instrumental) desire that aims at promoting the wellbeing of persons in a way that is insensitive to the identities of persons and their morally arbitrary features like their gender or skin color. Based on the account, I explain where Enoch’s discussion of the argument goes wrong, as well as why responses to the argument from Enoch’s critics have so far missed the mark.


Subjectivism Robust realism Impartiality Moral disagreement 



Special thanks to David Enoch, Erin Miller, and Sarah McGrath for their feedback on earlier versions of the paper and for pushing me with hard objections. Thanks, also, to Johann Frick, Elizabeth Harman, Eric Hubble, Sebastian Koehler, Michael Smith, and Nat Tabris for their comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Princeton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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