Orville Jenkins Articles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home

Faith and Life

The Meaning of "Fairness"
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

What is the meaning of "Fairness"?

Fairness is usually related to the concept of justice.  This involves what is right and equal.  Interpreting this is a problem, due to the limitations of human experience and the balance of all desired good.

Fairness can be interpreted as being equal in provision, in opportunity or in result.  From each point of view, the other point of view may seem unfair.

Being fair can be seen as equality in the sense that everyone gets the same thing.  This has the limtation that everyone may not want, need, deserve or even be able to use the same thing.  An older child needs a different kind of gift or help or a different amount of allowance or responsiblities to perform.

To correct an injustice, it might be felt good to make it right by giving everyone the same amount of money, same status of job, same pay, or such.  Some might feel to be fair, extra compensation needs to be given to make up for previous oversight or injustice, so that some will now get paid more.

But this would seem unfair to others doing the same work, or in the same role in society.  Does one discrimination make up for another?

It might be thought fair to give everybody the same provisions, whether they worked for them or not, such as socialist systems try to do, to be fair to everybody.  This overlooks the production of wealth and maintenance, which depnds of motivation and reward.

It might seem more fair to pass everybody in the class whether they make good grades or not.  This might keep them from feeling bad about themselves.  But is that fair to them in the responsibilities they will be expected to fill later?  They won't be prepared and will fail later.  Is that fair to those who studied and worked hard and earned a high grade? Where is any motivation to do well, to improve?

A common view of fairness in the Western systems, and especially in the US, is to provide equal opportunity, for people to use in what way they can.  This is seen as fair, so everyone gets the same starting point, and difference in performance is assumed to be due to individual initiative, intelligence, hard work, etc.

Scholarships are provided, for instance, on this basis, so that poor students are not at a disadvantage in the opportunity to study.

These are some of the considerations in the concept of "fairness."  Much more detailed discussion would be involved for a more complete legal or ethical consideration.

Originally written on 13 November 2000
This version posted 08 February 2003
Last edited 28 September 2012

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD

Copyright © Orville Boyd Jenkins 2003
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.
Email the author
Orville Jenkins Articles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home