Fairness – Theory

There have been many different proposals for the way in which society should be organised:-

By and large, philosophers (with notable exceptions such as Plato) have opted for democracy as the best way to regulate society but there is not necessarily a link between any system and justice and fairness although democracies, in their different ways, tend to be fairer than dictatorships.

The supposed arrangements by which a government achieves a level of justice and fairness varies greatly:

Most democratic theories of justice are not purely any of these but are hybrids.

These brief remarks lead us to the inevitable question:-

If it is our objective to establish a just and fair society, what does this mean?

In this context a just society for us is one in which the theoretical entitlements of citizens are equal, i.e. equality before the law; free speech etc; but theoretical parity of "primary social goods" like liberty does not mean parity of prospects of the enjoyment of rights.

In the United Kingdom politics is largely bipolar, with conservatives giving liberty a priority over equality and progressives prioritising equality over liberty.

We will assume for our discussion that our society is, by and large, just and that the immediate problem that faces us is how to define fairness.

  1. We are naturally disposed to "positional" or "prudential" factors in arriving at an idea of fairness, i.e. parents are naturally inclined to seek educational arrangements which benefit their children; and richer people tend to favour a higher level of privately disposed prudential income; whereas poorer people tend to favour the curtailment of private prudential expenditure in favour of state provision.
    • How do we establish a fair balance between private prudential and public expenditure?
  2. The USA favours a model which allocates less than 25% of GDP to the public sector whereas EU countries, including the UK, hover around 40%. Are there any objective ways of deciding whether either figure is too high or too low?
  3. As modern societies make opting out almost impossible, to what extent do we have obligations to secure equal citizen capability, i.e. for women, ethnic minorities, disabled people?
  4. Is it fair to define "neighbour" as people of whose existence you are aware? How does this affect your view of fairness?
  5. Most economists measure how well we are doing according to material income and wealth. Is this good enough?
  6. Is there a requirement in a Christian theory of fairness for sacrifice?

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