On the Practical Impossibility of Being Both Well-Informed and Impartial


  • Sveinung S. Sivertsen University of Bergen, Norway




Adam Smith argued that the ideal moral judge is both well-informed and impartial. As non-ideal moral agents, we tend only to be truly well-informed about those with whom we frequently interact. These are also those with whom we tend to have the closest affective bonds. Hence, those who are well-informed, like our friends, tend to make for partial judges, while those who are impartial, like strangers, tend to make for ill-informed ones. Combining these two traits in one person seems far from straightforward. Still, if becoming well-informed is, as Smith also claims, a matter of imaginative perspective-taking with the “person principally concerned” (TMS, I.i.1.4, 13), it might be possible to become well-informed without the emotional entanglement that comes from any actual proximity to those we judge. Against this intuition, I use Construal Level Theory to show that the tension between being well-informed and impartial is likely to persist even if we take any actual proximity out of the equation. I end by discussing some implications of this, and suggest that we should consider revising the ideal to accommodate them.

Author Biography

Sveinung S. Sivertsen, University of Bergen, Norway

Sveinung Sivertsen is a PhD candidate at the University of Bergen, Department of Philosophy. His research focuses on the moral philosophy of Adam Smith, and in particular on how modern psychological research can cast new light on old problems in Smith’s sentimentalist ethics.




How to Cite

Sivertsen, S. S. (2019). On the Practical Impossibility of Being Both Well-Informed and Impartial. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 12(1), 52–72. https://doi.org/10.23941/ejpe.v12i1.377