It can sometimes seem as if everything should be fair. The hegemony of fairness is partly owed to an unfortunate linguistic habit, in which anything that is not fair, but could have been fair, is called unfair. Since unfairness is, as the language works, so obviously a moral failing, it would follow that everything ought to be fair if it can be. But there seems to be a legitimate questions about this, which we should not let linguisitic habits settle. For example, to defend my choice to save my son from drowning rather than saving the stranger next to him, it is not obvious that I should need to show that doing so conforms to some appropriate standard of fairness. Or consider my giving five dollars to one beggar and nothing to the next. Is it obvious that this is only permissible if it is, in some way, fair? It is obviously not fair, but is it unfair? (We might call this the non/un issue.)
-- D. Estlund, Democratic Authority, p.67.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Estlund on Non-Fairness
I've long thought that fairness is overrated, and often brought up in situations where it is completely unnecessary (e.g. the suggestion that one must flip a coin to decide which of two needy strangers to help). Rather, as Estlund argues, it is at most "an occasional value":