Should Life Be Fair?
You have to treat people fairly.
This is not a Q1 violation so long as "fair" is carefully defined.
This is not a Q2 violation if you would want others to treat you fairly and your definition of "fair" is acceptable to others.
We’ve all heard phrases relating to fairness — "life is not fair," "play fair," "fair trade," "all’s fair in love and war," etc. — and many of us had parents who encouraged us to believe that we must try to be fair in our dealings with others. But before you can decide to treat people fairly, you must decide what it means to be fair.
In this context, "fair" might mean that:
- Everyone has the same quantity of something.
- Everyone has the same opportunities.
- Everyone has equal outcomes or nobody loses.
- Everyone is treated the same way in similar circumstances.
- You do not favor yourself above others.
- Situations are resolved honestly and without bias.
- Justice is served.
- Some combination of the above.
You may prefer one of these definitions, you may prefer another definition, or you may hold that different definitions of "fair" apply in different circumstances.
But if something is unfair, is it also immoral? Certainly things which are out of human control can be unfair without being immoral. In a sense, it’s unfair if it rains on your birthday but not on your sisters’, but nobody is to blame.
Consider the following. Which of these situations (if any) are fair? Are any of them fair but immoral? Or unfair but moral?
- A brother and sister are each given a bag of candy. The sister eats all of hers, but the brother saves some of his. The next day, the brother is eating candy and the sister complains to her mother because she has none. The mother tells her son to be fair and share with his sister.
- You are pulled over by the police for speeding. You were indeed speeding, but lots of other people were speeding too, and they didn’t get tickets.
- You are looking forward to your softball team’s championship game. On game day, you’re sick and the team plays without you.
- Your older brother got a car for his 16th birthday. When your 16th birthday comes around, you don’t get a car because your mom was laid off from her job.
- You apply for a job, but even though you’re better qualified, the company hires someone they’ve worked with before instead.
- You can’t get a job as a receptionist because of your accent.
- You’ve never won the lottery, but some guy won twice.
- At Christmas, people who have been with the company longer get bigger bonuses than everyone else.
- During a period of downsizing, the company lays off veteran employees so it doesn’t have to pay them their big Christmas bonuses.
- There’s only one piece of fried chicken left on the serving plate. Your mom takes it without first asking if you want it.
- You get a ticket for jaywalking, but "there was nobody around, you weren’t hurting anyone, and it’s a dumb law anyway."
- A man steals a $40 bag of groceries for his family and gets a slap on the wrists, but you steal a $12 CD and end up in jail (again).
- Your cousin won’t give you $100 to get a new jacket, even though she was born rich and wouldn’t even miss it.
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.