Compromise, Negotiation and Morality


This review essay (on Avishai Margalit’s new book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises) discusses the philosophical, moral, ethical and practical dimensions of negotiating with “evil” geo-political partners (those who would establish or maintain inhumane regimes) or those who would do evil things. Although compromise is often thought of as unprincipled and amoral, if not immoral, this essay discusses the moral justifications for some compromises, separating out different categories of permissible, justifiable, or immoral and unjustifiable promises. Although Margalit focuses primarily on macro, large geopolitical negotiations, this essay applies thinking about compromise and morality to more everyday and “micro” negotiations as well. Since compromises often give us some peace, if not full, justice, when are we justified in compromising? What does it mean to “compromise” with those who might be evil, or seek to do evil things? When should we walk away? When can't we walk away?

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