It seems absurd to expect anyone to treat their best friend and a stranger with equal consideration in a moral dilemma, but the idea of people earning a higher right to wellbeing just by being liked by you, or by the chance of being born in your family feels such an arbitrary way to value life. Maybe I'm being too harsh, and personal feelings are a valid grounds for moral decision making?

  • In your headline, you ask if it's morally "justified" to favor people with emotional connections to yourself; in the body you mention "valid grounds" & what might be "absurd to expect." I am not sure whether you mean to ask about a weaker claim (CAN-F) or a stronger on (MUST-F) — (CAN-F) It's morally permissible to favor people you're emotionally bound to (it's OK to favor favorites); OR (MUST-F) It's morally obligatory to favor people you're emotionally bound to (it's not OK not to favor). Could you say a bit about which claim you are asking about in your question? Nov 15, 2021 at 22:31
  • 2
    According to one venerable tradition, it is. The ethical doctrine is called self-referential altruism, and arguably can be traced back to Aristotle. The term was coined in modern times by Broad and Mackie, see West, Self-Referential Altruism in Aristotle’s Philosophy of Friendship.
    – Conifold
    Nov 16, 2021 at 0:17
  • Sure sorry about that confusion i’m not very educated on philosophy so what you told me was new information. By morally justified I meant was it morally permissible, not obligatory
    – Alex
    Nov 16, 2021 at 23:08
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2 Answers 2


On the non-cognitivist account it is neither morally justifiable, nor non-justifiable. If you were to favour people which have no emotional connections to yourself, then you express your whim to do so. "Hurray, friend! Boo, stranger!" or "Hurray, stranger! Boo, friend!". That's that, nothing more to it.

On the grounds of cognitivism, say, realism, you have to value objective truth and if, additionally, you have some set of axioms, then you have to evaluate each person according to your precepts using reason (and logic). On the relativist account, it is perfectly fine and morally acceptable to value those who have emotional connections to you. Relativism might also form a special clause that it is right for everyone to have such preference.


Personally I think so, because I am basically a virtue ethicist.

On raw utilitarianism one should really consider equally all people who can be happy or suffer equally (though I am sure that there are versions arguing out of this conclusion); equally as a Kantian I would think one should treat all rational free beings as equal foci of ethical concern (though again I am sure people can argue differently).

But in my view morality is ultimately about having a healthy, benevolent, and harmonious character. Someone who valued the needs of, e.g., their dependent children interchangeably with those of distant strangers would not in my view be a saint, they would be a monster.

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