Compromise and Moral Conflict: Theory and Practice
Date: 18 - 20 May 2017
Convenors: Véronique Zanetti (Bielefeld, GER), Fabian Wendt (Bielefeld, GER)
Compromises are made everyday and everywhere: in marriages, families, business, politics, and science. Considering their irreplaceable role as a mechanism for resolving conflicts in both private and public life, the relative neglect of the notion of compromise in philosophy, political science, and sociology is astonishing. The ZiF conference aimed to (partly) fill this gap and to help understand the notion of compromise.
The conference gathered twelve speakers from six countries and focused on four fields of application: Morality, politics, law, and religion. Of course these fields are not independent of each other: For example, political compromises and compromises in law have moral consequences and moral compromises are sometimes made in political or jurisdictional decisions. Thus different ministries must agree on the best way to share the national budget, and they often face questions of value in the process.
One central question at the conference was how compromises could work in different circumstances. Sometimes it seems possible to simply
split the difference; but when policy debates are not about shareable goods,
splitting the difference arguably cannot be the right answer. Instead an appropriate method might be something more deliberative like
value clarification, i.e. the mutual exploration of rival conceptions of the good that leads to identifying cores and peripheries in the parties' value commitments and thus possible areas for concessions and compromises.
With regard to the ethical aspects of compromises, several topics were discussed at the conference. One of them was the question how power inequalities affect the conditions and procedural nature of compromise, another was whether it is a moral desideratum to have fair compromises, a third were the moral limits of compromises and the criteria for morally bad or rotten compromises. With regard to the first topic, it seems clear that significant inequalities of power can thwart the opening of joint attempts to settle conflicts through compromise and undermine fair concession making in the process of compromising. This consideration links to the second, the question of fairness of compromises. In contrast to what might seem natural at first sight, some think that it is not a moral desideratum to achieve fair compromises. In friendships, for example, fairness relative to how much one can gain and lose seems irrelevant to the morality of making compromises, and in economics it is morally unproblematic when one of the party manages to make less concessions than the other party. With regard to the third topic, it has been argued that compromises are morally bad if they break an absolute rule of conduct, if they prefer a lesser instance of a single good to a greater one, and if they prefer an inferior to a superior good.