Wednesday, February 09, 2011

"The Principle of Equal Unfairness"

"It smacks of what I believe Maynard Keynes used to call, with reference to the deliberations of academic bodies, the Principle of Equal Unfairness: that if you can't do a good turn to everybody in a certain situation, you shouldn't do it to anybody."

Bernard Williams, 'Morality and the Emotions' in Problems of the Self: Philosophical Papers 1956-1972. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973, p. 226.

This sounds absolutely correct! Many thanks to Fabian Freyenhagen for the quote.


Liam said...

Here's an example which I think illustrates this point, but perhaps not.

I can buy, at most, half of my students the course book. It is better for me to buy it for none than for all. Does that seem to fit?

Equal unfairness does seem the wrong name, but equal burdens or benefits doesn't fit well either. It seems that the fair thing to do is not do a good turn for anyone if that case rather than that unfairness is the currency to be distributed.

Paul K said...

According to John Broome, that's actually the Principle of Perfect Fairness:

"Equal chances provide a surrogate equality in satisfaction, and so a degree of fairness. It is not true equality of satisfaction, and therefore not completely fair, but it is fair to some degree. Saving no one would be the fairest thing to do; tossing a coin the next fairest."

From "Kamm on Fairness," Philosophical and Phenomenological Research 58, no. 4 (1998): 955-961, p. 956.

Paul said...

Poppycock! One should do good where one can .