Fairness vs Equality

EQUALITY sets the scene for FAIRNESS to reign supreme

The True Justice

Apparently, more people care about fairness than equality. The former is more likely to pique their interest than the latter. But can the former really exist without the latter?

Adam Creighton recently wrote about the aversion people have toward unfairness while not necessarily caring much about equality, a notion which had been reported in the science journal Nature and has also been the subject of much musing in contexts ranging from voting behaviour to educational performance.

The True Justice wonders whether fairness is a by-product of equality?  Can you have fairness without equality? Or is equality the structural beam that allows fairness to stand?

A deficit of equality in society may result in unequal pay for equal work, unequal access to health care because cost or logistics prevent access and unequal representation within the criminal justice system because education, financial and capacity deficits detrimentally affect your ability to function within the boundaries of lawfulness or adequately navigate your avenues for redress within the legal system.

But what would a deficit in fairness look like, if it were in fact different from equality and not mutually exclusive?  Would it be compelling one person to do all the work while providing pay to all of the people, not just the one who worked? Would it be providing treatment appointments to all sick patients but only treating a select few? Would it be providing all of the accused their day in court but actually only allowing one or two to speak for themselves?

Delineating between equality and fairness is a tricky endeavour and one that isn’t readily resolved by using philosophy or morality as a reference point either. The golden rule of reciprocity ‘doing to others as you would have them do to you’ suggests a genesis in equality: each party in the hypothetical equation occupy the same standing of doing only as they would have done, in the positive and negative.

Could the difficulty in differentiating between fairness and equality arise from a perception that equality is an abstract ideal with little practical impact while fairness is the tangible outcome keenly felt by individuals as they assess and compare within the context relevant to them and the situation in question?

Perhaps fairness is perceived to have happened when we view something objectively having agreed to apply the same rules. Eg. It is a common refrain during childhood that not having or doing something is ‘unfair’ because another child or ‘everyone’ else has or does the thing in question.

But when adherence to common rules are added into the equation, fairness seems to assume more certainty and appears closer to equality than it did when equality was just an abstract ideal with little tangible effect. Eg. If it was determined that the child possessing or doing the coveted thing did so only after completing a particular activity that the other child had not done, it is likely that the situation would seem somewhat less unfair than it had previously.

Could it be the case that equality ensures access to the activity and rules or everyone and fairness ensures the rule are applied without fear or favour to everyone, in the same way and are not applied arbitrarily?

The True Justice considers that equality sets the scene for fairness to reign supreme.

What do you think about fairness vs equality? Are they the same and if they are different, how are they so?

Justice doesn’t just happen.

Be Engaged. Be Informed. Be Curious.

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