Splitting the Difference

Compromise and Integrity in Ethics and Politics

Martin Benjamin

Politics is often characterized as the "art of compromise"—the implication being that compromise is desirable and that insight, imagination, discipline, and skill are all necessary for a satisfactory and successful compromise. Compromise in ethics, however, is quite another matter: there, it is usually regarded as a sign of weakness or lack of integrity. From Socrates and Sir Thomas More to Gandhi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martin Luther King, Jr., we revere these men and women not only for the nature of their convictions but also for their unwavering refusal to compromise.

Does this point to an important difference between politics and ethics? Martin Benjamin here explores, in the first book-length treatment, the surprisingly rich and complex notion of compromise and integrity in ethics and politics. With wide-ranging examples drawn from Tolstoy to Ralph Nader and from a variety of medical and bioethical cases Benjamin presents in a clear, straightforward fashion an examination of the interplay between compromise and integrity.

“This book is worth careful inspection by anyone interested in reading a lucid exposition of the problem of moral compromise in political life.

—Journal of Politics

“Benjamin rehabilitates the concept of compromise as an admirable and indeed essential human enterprise and argues eloquently that it can also be applied successfully to the apparently intractable ethical issues which confront our body politic.

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In the process, Benjamin tackles tough questions—the relationship between practical and theoretical ethics, what compromise means for ethical theory, how moral judgments affect compromise, and whether it is possible to compromise without being compromised. In the final chapter Benjamin explores the possibility of political compromise in a matter of great ethical significance—abortion.

About the Author

Martin Benjamin, professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, spent 1983-84 as an NEH fellow at the Hastings Center. Since 1975 he has been a member of the Legislative Task Force on Death and Dying of the Michigan House of Representatives, and since 1986, chair of the Ethics and Social Impact Committee of the Transplant Policy Center at the University of Michigan. Benjamin's previous books include Ethical Issues at the Outset of Life (with William Weil) and Ethics in Nursing (with Joy Curtis).