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March 21, 2014


Mark Scott

I've yet to see any definition of "fair" that can command universal agreement.

Donald A. Coffin

"The statement: "slavery was fair once" would strike most of us as absurd..."

What about "Slavery was once widely regarded as fair"? (Note that "widely regarded does not imply a majority.) I suspect that in the US at least until the early-to-mid 1800s, and longer than that in the south, slavery was widely regarded as fair. Those who regarded it as fair were wrong, but that may not be the point.

Neil Wilson

Sorry Chris but 'fair' is in the eye of the beholder.

The standard political attack is to say that somebody is failing to pay their fair share of taxes.

And it is very difficult to counter that line.

There is no objective way of defining what is fair and what is not. It is concluded via negotiation between humans within a society.

What they do at that point in time is 'fair' and the future may see it as 'not fair', but that's just because change is the only constant.


Yes, I doubt most would have justified slavery in the past as "fair".

More likely it would have been considered just part of the natural order.


But in the end the social democrats deliver while the Marxists can not. Yes their analysis of our society and Neo-Liberalism is very true more or less - although I am with Gramsci the ordinary man can see through the hegemony at times. I sat upright when I read Andrew Rawsley in the great Observer last Sunday: " yet the governments of Tony Blair did more to improve the lives of working people than Tony Benn ever managed to do" How true.


"fair" is a word that is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Politics is about power. When politicians use the word "fair" they are expressing a power relationship about the right of one group to determine and limit outcomes for another group. The Labour Party uses "fair" to limit the amitions and achievements of the mass of the working population and so preserve the power of the ruling clique over the people they are meant to represent.


"And in a democracy, success as an activist is determined by what the majority think - by whether you win elections; how often do we see politicians cite opinion polls as if they decided matters?"

If this was true, surely an EU referendum would have taken place; immigration would not have risen; capital punishment might never have been abolished; gay marriage would be a marginal concern and environmental issues would receive a small fraction of the press that have been given in modern times?

One's success as an activist, as far as I can tell, is more liable to be determined by *who* one can influence than by *how many* people one inspires.



How could you describe anything as "unfair, but part of the natural order"?


"Could it be that we see one merely because Peter Singer's "expanding circle" of concern has expanded to include women but hasn't yet expanded to include foreigners?"

Yes, exactly that.

I think about the expanding circle of concern a lot. Particularly interesting is the question: is it *right* in a deontic sense that the circle should be expanded?

It can't be by definition. Since if it were, it would clearly betray a concern for those outside the circle of concern.

This means that it is merely a morally neutral fact. There may be some ratchet mechanism that favours expansion in good times, because it would never be right to want to decrease the circle, again by definition.

Of course there isn't a circle so much as a woolly penumbral gradient of concern, and actually it isn't a circle, but a mess dictated by psychological distance.

As have often been noted on this blog, things which decrease this distance increase empathy and sympathy such as merely the act of communicating. The same for TV appeals, e.g. featuring distant victims.

People often imply (as I believe Chris does) that we *should* expand our circle, for example to foreigners. And yet they don't seem to acknowledge that it isn't possible to have uniformly weighted concern regardless of psychological distance. I quite literally do not value the life of someone I've never heard of and will never meet on a par with a family member.

Either you propose some moral argument why I should (which will require deontic axioms most people will not agree to) or you explain how the circles should be structured.

Assuming the latter, why exactly *should* we structure a circle to include foreigners on a par with fellow nationals (all other psychological relationships being equal?). A national boundary is not an arbitrary one when it comes to issues of communication and administration. Why *not* have a rough contour line of concern around it?

p j g

Fair is not a word, its an emotional impulse. It describes a condition not a result.

Peter Risdon

People have innate differences and these are responsible for differences of political opinion. You're using nice words like 'fairness' to camouflage despotic ambitions.

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