Saturday, March 14, 2015

Fairness and policy

In the last sentence of the last post I alluded to the fact that things get more complicated when we move from caring about inequality to doing something about inequality. You can obviously never just use "fairness" to justify a policy solution not just because ends don't justify means (you have to know something about the ethics of the solution) but also because you have to demonstrate that there aren't other attendant ends that you don't want. A simple example is communism. We can dispute communism because the ends don't justify the means - the goal of equality does not justify violating property rights. But we can also dispute it on the grounds that in addition to making everyone equal it makes them miserable and poorer than they otherwise would be.

This is very much a "no duh" point. A sense of fairness doesn't in and of itself tell you how to respond - certainly not in the case of policy and likely not in your own capacity either. But it reminds me of what I think is a more interesting point from Rawls on the limits of "fairness" as a moral framework and the real utility of fairness as a way of approaching political questions and really questions of social organization generally. It is an old point about tolerance and liberalism, but it draws the connection between tolerance and Rawlsian fairness. This is from "Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical":

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