A graduate student in philosophy writes in with the following query:
On the one hand, it seems unethical to review such a paper, given the personal investment in the subject. On the other, it seems plausible to me that the conflict of interest doesn’t necessarily make a potential referee a less qualified reviewer than whoever would replace them, especially if the topic is a niche one or is highly technical.
I can see an argument for the idea that it might be unfair to the author (or bad for the subject) to “selfishly” refuse to contribute in cases where one’s expertise might make a relevant difference. (Though I suspect that there are very few cases in which the topic is genuinely as niche or technical as that.) It also seems worthwhile to balance concerns of the time required to find additional reviewers and the associated costs to both author and editor.
Finally, I’m unsure how I would draw a cutoff for papers that one shouldn’t review—speaking only for myself, I suspect that I would be more likely to be uncharitable to a paper that failed to engage with my work on a subject than with one that responded to it, for instance.