26 March 2011

Justice and Fairness

What is justice?

That's a notoriously difficult question. For what it's worth, I think justice is an emergent property of a well-functioning society, but that's not important right now.

It is not the same thing as fairness. Fairness is a more limited but less ambiguous concept, resting on equality of treatment. If there's no good reason to prefer A over B, then A and B should be treated the same.

If A and B have a dispute, the fair thing is to split the disputed entity evenly, or to toss a coin. That may not be the just thing however — but justice is difficult and might depend on all the details of the dispute.

(Fairness can extend a bit further than that. If A and B made an agreement, and A has complied with it, then B should too, even if the agreement imposed different demands on each of them. It is not fair for the agreement to be enforced on one party but not the other).

Games and sports, in particular, should be fair. The reason we want them to be fair, is that it makes the result less predictable, which is more exciting. People will neither play or watch sports where the outcome is not in doubt. And the authors of the sport's rules want people to play the sport.

War is the same. If it is made fair, then people will be more willing to play. There is a difference, though, which is that in general we do not want to encourage people to play war.

Which takes me finally to this tweet from "end of tyranny":
#NFZ levels the battle field, which ain't in #Qaddafi's favor. Here's to a free #Libya
The level battlefield. The only thing that nobody should want.

There are three reasonable positions one could have toward the conflict in Libya. One could want Gadaffi to win. One could want the opposition to win. Or one could want peace.

A "level battle field" is not a means to any of those ends. It is a means only to encouraging war for its own sake. To create it on humanitarian grounds is insane.

I think Aretae makes a similar, if less blatant, error in the post I discussed earlier.

He says, in the context of politics:
Manipulating the rules of the game has a high likelihood of having SUBSTANTIALLY higher returns than competing on a fair playing field
Politics, like war to which it is closely related, does not take place on a playing field. Making politics more fair will not necessarily make the outcome more just, but will make participation more attractive, which is a bad thing.


Aretae said...

Perhaps it's bad analogies?

I don't want fairness in political maneuvering. I want rules set 1x, and then GTFO. The fair playing field I'm speaking of is Laissez-Faire Free Marketeering, not the political playing field currently inhabited by political insiders in either monarchies or democracies.

Agnello said...

Describing Justice as "an emergent property of a well-functioning society" is a bit like describing gravity as an "an emergent property of an object with mass" - true enough, but not a bit lucid.
While I am not sure that I could describe or defend Justice without recourse to Theology ( In a nutshell: God is Just, or possesses a quality to which human Justice is analogous.Thus,men ought to seek Justice.)there are more secular treatises available.
Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is good to clear a room, but if we can remember that it is a novel(and not a sacred text),it makes for a cogent meditation on Justice, without recourse to either Deity or revelation.
A treatment from Evolutionary Psychology (based on empathy?)might also be enlightening if anyone has articulated one.
Regardless, there is one thing which the Economist, Psychologist, and Priest should all be able to agree on;"Fairness",as described by day school teachers and politicians the world over, in so far as it bears any relationship to Justice at all, is likely to be its exact opposite.