Between integrity and pragmatism: theoretical insights and practical effects of compromise

WP-LPF 6/16

WP-LPF 2016
Centro Einaudi
Articolo completo/Full text


Disagreement represents a peculiar feature of the political life of contemporary liberal and democratic societies. Citizens of liberal societies disagree not only about which policies should be implemented and how, but also about matters of principle. 
Given the possibility and relevance of rationally irresolvable disagreements, this article will focus on those political strategies for the regulation of political disagreements concerning the justifiability of institutions, laws, and norms, which may cause social conflicts when not applied correctly. 
Compromise has been traditionally considered a viable strategy for reconciliation. Indeed, compromise is usually connected to a process of negotiation, by which each of the parties in disagreement concedes something for the sake of something else considered of more value. However, the traditional interpretation seems to neglect certain crucial aspects which render the idea of compromise something more than a mere strategic concession. In a compromise, persuasion, reciprocal respect, and favorable dispositions toward mutual concessions are crucial. In other forms of negotiations, power, threats, and intimidations are fundamental. The parties involved in a compromise are committed to consider others' arguments and to be in connection with them through various forms of discussion. They are competent and ready to give concession at least to reach the end of the decisional process. 
The article aims at analyzing whether different forms of disagreement produce different forms of compromise. For example, conflicts and disagreements on non-moral - but equally legitimate - interests and principles may result in different terms of compromise. When we compare a compromise on fundamental principles with a general clash of interests (e.g. economic interests) we may wonder whether what is at stake in a moral disagreement is deeper and more important than in the case of disagreements concerning distributive and retributive issues. Compromise might also be considered a sort of renounce, conscious and temporary, to the implementation of one's system of values by individuals who hold different and incompatible reasons. Such renounce is to be intended as a way not to damage social cooperation among individuals but to make it possible to open the debate again in the future. It is necessary to evaluate if it is always possible to reach this kind of compromise and, if this is not the case, why. The research aims, first, at understanding the conditions which make a compromise possible. Moreover, it will be crucial to verify if and when it is possible to compromise on moral issues, and at what cost. Given the complexity of our moral, cognitive, and ethical framework, the main aim of this work is to prove that sometimes a compromise can preserve and honor integrity more than an individual could by him/herself. When a compromise process is able to grant understanding and respect among parties, and when it can avoid unmanageable conflicts, moral reliability of parties is not weakened but strengthened. But what happens when conflict is irreducible? Is it possible, in that case, to accept a compromise without jeopardizing one's moral integrity?  
The goal of the article consists in setting a theoretical framework, which may provide tools to rethink a compromise apt to be an assertive element and not a threat of individual integrity, apt to promote inclusion and prevent exclusion. A compromise that can make us more prompt to support our future moral competences instead of weakening our moral values.