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  1. Simon Căbulea May

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee565

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

May, S. C. 2013. Compromise. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

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Compromise is an inescapable part of human coexistence, from the mundane choices of domestic life to the grand stage of world politics. Edmund Burke (1993: 257) famously remarks that “all government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.” To create and enjoy the many benefits of social cooperation, individuals must make concessions to each other in one way or another. Notwithstanding its ubiquity, compromise raises a number of philosophical puzzles. One kind of problem is conceptual: what is compromise, and how might it differ from similar social phenomena, such as consensus and bargaining? These questions are discussed in the first section. A second kind of problem concerns the murky ethics of compromise, particularly on matters of moral significance. Compromise may have a salutary role in facilitating cooperation, but it can also involve the sacrifice or betrayal of important values. Can there be moral reasons for genuine moral compromise and, if so, what form might they take? Similarly, are there any limits to moral compromise, or are all moral commitments ultimately subject to negotiation? These questions are discussed in the second section.


  • legal and political;
  • negotiation;
  • normative ethics;
  • politics;
  • practical (applied) ethics