What is the opposite of a conflict of interest?

This is a fair – indeed, perhaps unavoidable – question for a blog on conflicts of interest to ask, and is related broadly to an earlier post about whether we worry too much about conflicts of interest, and also one about “reverse conflicts of interest.”

It is not clear to me, however, that there is any one opposite of a COI, but rather various possibilities of such.  One of these is for agents to identify too much with the interests of their respective principals.   

In this chapter from Ethics for AdversariesArthur Isak Applbaum describes how many of the adversary systems with which we live – law, politics, and others – seem to license wrongdoing that would not be countenanced if done in other settings.  As he notes, “[A]dversaries act for by acting against,” and this leads to a purported “division of moral labor” – with the expectation that some sort of equilibrium will arise therefrom.   But, he says, acts that ordinarily would be morally forbidden – such as deception – should not be considered permissible merely because they are performed in a political or professional role.   (Indeed, the apparent licensing done by adversary systems calls to mind behavioral ethics research described in an earlier post showing that doing social good can morally license doing ill.)

So, this might be one opposite of a conflict of interest, and a particularly apposite opposite in an election season.

(Up next in the COI Blog:  “Ethics is a barrel of worms.”)

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