Being Fair and Being Good

In a bit, I will be calling for help to construct a quaestio (or whatever the proper Latin form of that word ison the issue of g-for-government gmarriage. The plan is to put all the arguments and premises in a nice logical format in a way that even the modern ill-educated can understand. Hey, a guy’s gotta dream.

In attempting to get my mind around what people mean by ‘fair’, I wandered off…

By ‘fair’, it seems people mean ‘just’ (if they mean anything at all). Justice has been long defined as ‘giving each his due’. So, before we can say whether someone is being treated justly, we must understand what each person is due.

First, note the manifest truth in the rebuke of millions of parents to millions of children: life isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to the zebra that he gets eaten by the lion, nor is it fair the lion otherwise starves; it isn’t fair that your sister gets to stay up later than you do, nor is it fair that she’s blond and you’re brunette. And so on. So we cannot turn to nature for guidance on fairness.

Note also that ‘fair’ is a two-way street: nothing is fair in abstract isolation, but only in a relationship – I give to someone else what is their due *from me*, which can’t really happen if we are disassociated individuals. To be just, they would also need to give me my due. Expanding this further, the whole idea of fairness involves a web of reciprocal *duties* – fairness exists within relationships. Fairness is a feature of communities.

To cry ‘that’s not fair!’ is to posit the existence of a community, without which the whole idea of fairness falls apart. But communities also have requirements, which become duties on the ground, without which they cannot exist. Therefore, all claims made in the name of fairness must – must! – take into consideration whether recognizing those claims sustains or damages the community as a whole. Without that community of duties existing through time, we’re all just another zebra on the lion’s menu.

Not sure how this works into the argument yet, but one story repeated endlessly is of people launching their communities into endless wars in the name of justice. The French revolution and its aftereffects spring to mind. People were murdered, enslaved, tortured, and these crimes call out for justice. There are only a few examples I know of – South Africa, a couple Latin American countries – where the people realized that the only way they would ever get a community worth living in would be to forgive, or at least agree to refrain from (perfectly justifiable and perhaps even ‘fair’) vengeance. Much of this is purely practical – if I know me and mine will be hunted down and punished, I’m very much motivated to keep fighting. But it’s also a recognition on some level, I think, that you can’t even talk about fairness unless you have that community of reciprocal duties described above.

So perps go unpunished in the name of peace. On some level, then, you must sometimes stop trying to be fair in order to be good. This brings us to the next thing parents tell their kids after explaining that life isn’t fair – that the ‘unfair’ differences in life can make for a better life for all. I often think of the times in the grocery store where I get something down from the top shelves for short people – it may not be fair that I’m tall, but it is good. I suppose in order to be fair, I should start asking short people to get me stuff from the floor-level shelves, so that my back holds up better the better to get stuff off the top for them?


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

2 thoughts on “Being Fair and Being Good”

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