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It is generally considered acceptable to prioritize the well-being and safety of oneself and one's family over the well-being and safety of strangers. On the other hand, offering a job to a family member over a more qualified stranger could be seen as a moral failing if it is done solely because of the family relationship.

Why is there such a difference?

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  • 3
    Is speciesism a form of nepotism?
    – Hudjefa
    Dec 24, 2022 at 5:01
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    Nepotism conflicts with meritocracy, which is (or at least the appearance thereof) a key component of morals in modern (post-birthright) societies. The degree of nuisance toward outsiders is also pretty high: I can accept one supports their brother financially rather than me, but not that it costs me a job opportunity, or have me surrounded with incompetent professionals.
    – armand
    Dec 24, 2022 at 6:21
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    If someone hires you to do a job, you have a duty to do the best job you can, and that means hiring the best people you can to do the job. If you hire someone who is not the best available, then you are failing to do your duty. Dec 24, 2022 at 6:29
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    Because there is a time and place for everything, including caring for one's family. It isn't a moral absolute, and it is voluntarily given up when making an employment contract either with the public or with a private party. Going back on it, as in nepotism, amounts to breaking a promise, hence is typically immoral.
    – Conifold
    Dec 24, 2022 at 12:56
  • 3
    is perhaps nepotism more like unethical than immoral?
    – BCLC
    Dec 24, 2022 at 15:23

8 Answers 8

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Nepotism is considered immoral when you are giving away what's not yours.

The leader of a country is responsible for well-being of the people of country. If he gives away top positions in his government to his favorites, it doesn't matter that they are his relatives or not, it also doesn't matter that they are capable of the positions, as long as there is no fair chance for non-favorites who are capable, he will be considered immoral.

In his own business, a person can give away top positions to his relatives. People will not mind except those employees that are sure they deserve the position, but they will mind even if you choose from among them, anybody who is not chosen will have grievances.

You are supposed to arrange for well-being of your relatives as much as it's in your power but that's from what you have as your own. Not what you are given for safe-keeping or executing and is not yours.

People don't mind educational institutes that don't give admission to non-community members, whatever the definition of community is. It can be based on hereditary or religion or locality, whatever. As long as the entire institute is financed by private money and is not taking anything from government. People also don't mind businesses that hire only relatives, you see, employment laws in this regard are a pretty recent invention and therefore don't correspond to fundamental human nature, just whatever the fad is today or these decades.

Even a political leader can give positions that are close to him, as in part of his own office, to only a selected group such as his relatives. Nobody will mind that. Nobody objects if an American president want his brother as vice president. All security guards of palace can be from a selected group, so can all staff of the palace. Almost all governments today, by law, allow advisors for the top members of government and they are free to choose anybody as their advisor. Such person is given official position with salary and all the related perks. Nobody minds that. Such positions are considered part of the office.

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    People certainly do mind when this happens at private companies.
    – Tim
    Dec 25, 2022 at 8:59
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    I don't think you can generalise on how nepotism in politics is treated from your own country. Certainly in the UK putting a relative on your staff in a public paid role is considered immoral, though not illegal inews.co.uk/news/… Dec 25, 2022 at 11:11
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    @Pete "I don't think you can generalise on how nepotism in politics is treated from your own country." Where did I do that? I didnt generalize from my country. "Certainly in the UK putting a relative on your staff in a public paid role is considered immoral, though not illegal". The question is not about legality. As I said in my answer, public paid anything is considered all citizen's property, so giving it to your favorites without fair competition will always be considered immoral by people of the country, as long as its not something internal to your office.
    – Atif
    Dec 25, 2022 at 11:43
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    There is a lot of generalising in this answer about what people do or don't mind without any supporting evidence or context. Dec 26, 2022 at 12:37
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    "Even a political leader can give positions that are close to him, as in part of his own office, to only a selected group such as his relatives. Nobody will mind that" Saying nobody minds is generalising. Many countries this is considered corrupt, many people do in fact mind when this happens. The legality question is relevant because it is being debated whether or not to make it illegal, which strongly implies that people do mind. Dec 26, 2022 at 12:51
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Most societies, particularly in the historical view, have not considered nepotism immoral, but rather morally obligatory; indeed, most have not had a term like "nepotism" to refer to unjust preference for your own relatives because they regarded it as just and prudent.

The detriment of this is to society as a whole as jobs are performed badly, or not at all, as the relative may be incompetent or know he is immune to being fired. Consequently, the view that it is immoral stems from the view that a particular job is a duty that must be carried out.

Once this principle is widespread in a society, there may be an added pressure for some jobs where it's expected that they must not only be, but appear to be, given on basis of merit rather than connections. (You can't hire your brother as the town's accountant because it looks bad, even if he will do the job adequately.)

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Businesses, government agencies and other formal organizations in modern societies are organized as bureaucracies. The credibility and legitimacy of a bureaucracy is based on the treatment of all relevant individuals according to the same impartial rules. The principles of bureaucracy are rarely if ever upheld in a perfect way, but flagrant violations undermine the trust that stakeholders have in an organization or institution.

Nepotism is a fairly obvious violation of this principle of impartiality. However, almost nobody upholds bureaucracy or non-discrimination as the highest moral principal overriding all other concerns. Adam Bellow explicitly argues that nepotism has its virtues. He makes a strong case that completely eradicating all forms of nepotism is both impossible and undesirable.

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Industry incumbents, ethnic or intersectional interest groups, and university alumni all enjoy hiring biases in relevant industries that are not considered immoral. These are all are groups with low knowledge costs to the formation of an effective lobby group. "Relatives", despite being a large group, has high knowledge cost barriers to cooperative action - how do you find all the other nephews whose totally unrelated relatives work in totally unrelated industries? Relatives therefore cannot readily organize an effective lobby and shape public opinion in favor of nepotism.

I suspect this political reality is more salient than any underlying ethical framework. If so, this question therefore has much more to do with the economics of cooperative action and the principles of effective advertising than with philosophy.

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In employment, there's an unwritten contract that people will be judged based on their performance and ability to do a job.

So favouring family members for roles could be considered immoral because it violates this contract.

Side note: With family-owned businesses, this isn't as big of a problem, because no-one joining the company should reasonably think that they'd be on equal footing with the family members of the owners. The morality of creating or maintaining such a business may be more blurry.


If the unwritten contract mentioned above didn't exist, there may be a problem of equality. There is a general principle that people should be judged according to what they do in life, rather than how they were born. By the same idea that we prevent companies from discriminating based on race or gender, we could say they shouldn't discriminate based on family line.


In democracies, it's much more true that it's immoral.

There's a strong expectation that people would be chosen to make decisions affecting everyone else, based on their ability to make those decisions well, not based on which family they were born into.

But there's an even stronger objection that applies to all governments: if you pick someone who'll be bad at the job, people could suffer as a result. So you may be favouring giving a job to a relative above the suffering of others, which seems immoral.

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Why is nepotism considered immoral?

You might have heard of the central theme of Yagya Idam na mama.

This saying indirectly implies, anything you give others also is not yours. Then how can you give it only to your friends or relatives considering that it is yours? People do not think of it up to this extent in their daily life even if it is the truth. Without thinking more about it, people usually consider it bad/immoral from their past experience or what they have heard before. They know that nepotism is not good for the smooth functioning of a firm. If it were ethical it would be good for its smooth functioning without any complaints from the other members of that firm even in their minds. So past experience proved that nepotism is immoral. And this is the reason in the case of most people. But even if latent, there is also another main reason for it.

People do not know whether the person who is appointed in one's firm has very good qualities and qualifications required for that firm even though he has. Often most people do not consider it. But they will consider it as a part of nepotism if the guy is a employer's close relative or a person of his own group. People usually do not consider nepotism even if the firm is run by relatives or friends. But if there is a right to include others in that firm, they will use the term 'nepotism'. And it will be considered immoral. Even if what I have considered here is only about appointments, you should extend this to all considerations that fall under nepotism.

There is a great possibility of maladministration when somebody of the employer's category is appointed in the firm of people of different categories; often when there are some employees in that firm who do not fully agree with the employer's decisions. When there is strong attachment, the administrator cannot make firm decisions against the other. This may lead to the creation of caucuses in that firm and eventually to its downfall. And this is also against the laws regarding natural resources.’ Even though there is relation, the term 'natural resources' often do not come in the discussions regarding nepotism. If natural resources were limitless and opportunities are equal, nepotism wouldn't have affected human life. Then nobody would consider it immoral.

https://www.iisd.org/articles/deep-dive/sustainable-use-natural-resources-governance-challenge

For these two reasons, nepotism is immoral even if there may have many beneficiaries. And all similar actions that fall under this category are immoral.

It is generally considered acceptable to prioritize the well-being and safety of oneself and one's family over the well-being and safety of strangers.

Is what people think is acceptable really acceptable in all its senses? Covid-19 will have taught everybody the importance of others. In other words, are you sure that no strangers are helping you and your family to survive? If you say 'yes', please read the contents in the first link once again.

So, you can conclude that your first statement is false. root-hairs of morality fixed not only to humans but to all the things essentials for their life. So What is generally acceptable is not always moral.
So your first statement is false and so you cannot ask for differentiating only with one true statement.

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Because it is perceived as something unfair. If you have an ideal candidate for a job and you decide to give it to another, who is a relative of yours, less prepared for the position. In general terms, nepotism is perceived as "taking something from someone to give it to a family member/friend", it is, at heart, a form of theft. If the theft is not accepted, it is logical that neither is nepotism.

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Nepotism is considered immoral because it places the desires of the rulers above the needs of the people…

Could anything else matter?

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  • Rule of thumb: if you answer a philosophical question in one line, you have missed the point
    – user63509
    Dec 27, 2022 at 8:05
  • Ho ho Victor. If you ask a Question that for centuries has troubled serious philosophers and politicians, among many others, in a single paragraph which outlines the argument in terms like yours, you have missed the point. That prolly means you won't agree either that NotThatGuy's Answer, below, adds nothing significant to mine… or that the greater length matters not. (Apologies in advance to NotThatGuy: your Answer is both clear and correct and my reference to it is solely as a teaching aid for Victor.) Dec 27, 2022 at 20:08
  • @user63509. By the way, did you notice how an answer to a philosophical question 'in one line' missing the point refers equally to the listener? Oops! Feb 6, 2023 at 21:13

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