In the pursuit of justice, positional illusions can impose serious barriers that have to be overcome through broadening the informational basis of evaluations, which is one of the reasons why Adam Smith demanded that perspectives from elsewhere, including from far away, have to be systematically invoked. Though much can be done through the deliberate use of open impartiality, the hope of proceeding smoothly from positional views to an ultimate ‘view from nowhere’ cannot hope to succeed fully.

Amartya Sen from The Idea of Justice

Sen is rightly cautioning us to avoid any simplistic or reductive attempt to fix what is morally important. We are familiar with the notion that pursuing our own self-interest with no regard to its impact on other people is wrong. But he is also saying that even if we do have moral concern for others the nature of that concern can also be very partial – unfair. We don’t always understand what is in the interests of other people nor can we always trust our own values or ideals. Partiality creeps in everywhere.

However it is also important to notice that scepticism about our own moral perspective can easily slip into scepticism about morality as a whole. This is very different and very dangerous. Becoming sceptical about morality may seem more ‘liberal’ or even (in a highly paradoxical way) more moral; but it is not. Moral scepticism is the death of our shared humanity – it excuses both selfishness and moral laziness.

The fact that an objective perspective, God’s perspective, is difficult to achieve does not entitle us to abandon morality or to stop striving for moral truth.

In fact it is more rational to be humble rather than sceptical. It makes more sense, when in doubt, to look to the authority of those we can trust and to those values that have survived longest, instead of throwing ourselves upon the bonfire of scepticism.