Volume 6, Issue 2, 2019
Impartiality or Oikeiôsis?
Two Models of Universal Benevolence
‘Universal benevolence’ may be defined as the goal of promoting the welfare of every individual, however remote, to the best of one’s ability. Currently, the commonest model of universal benevolence is that of ‘impartiality,’ the notion promoted by Peter Singer, Roderick Firth, and others, that every individual (including oneself) is of equal intrinsic worth. This paper contends that the impartialist model is seriously flawed. Specifically, it is demonstrated that impartialist accounts of benevolence (1) attempt to draw positive moral conclusions from negative premises, (2) draw actual conclusions from merely counterfactual premises, (3) fail to live up to stated claims of naturalism, and (4) give no compelling account of moral motivation. By contrast, I propose an alternate model of universal benevolence, grounded in the Stoic, cosmopolitan theory of oikeiôsis, i.e. ‘appropriation.’ Such a model, in contradistinction to impartiality, would see benevolence as the positive identification between moral agent and moral patient, rather than a charitable sacrifice of oneself for a distinct but equal other. An ethics of oikeiôsis has the further benefit of avoiding each of the four abovementioned conceptual pitfalls common to impartialist theories.