Global Ethics Corner: Pillars of Choice: Fairness

Jun 12, 2009

Fairness is a universal concept, but its application depends on time and place. The three pillars of ethical choice—pluralism, rights and responsibilities, and fairness—are thus codependent, and balancing them demands dialogue among people.

One of the three pillars of ethical choice is fairness.

Parents explain fairness as simple sharing. Watching the concept applied in a room of preschoolers is enlightening: "James, if you play with Natasha's truck, you'll have to share your own."

People have an internalized understanding of fairness and know when they are treated unfairly.

However, the first pillar of ethics is pluralism, and not everyone within a society shares the same standards.

The problem is magnified when multiple cultures, religions, and values intersect. Who gets the best choice: the boys, the weak, the eldest, the meek?

Fairness is a universal, but its application depends on place and time. Is a huge budget deficit fair to the next generation? Would collapsed credit markets be fairer?

The second pillar was rights and responsibilities, and fairness is how we balance these. You are entitled to social security, but you have to pay taxes.

Hence, like a three legged stool, the pillars must be in balance. Pluralism, rights and responsibilities, and fairness become codependent tools for determining ethical choice, and demand dialogue among people, not simple assertions.

What do you think? Should Natasha share her truck? How?

By William Vocke

To post a comment, go to the Global Ethics Corner slideshow.

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