Defining fairness can seem like a difficult task, much like trying to quantify such abstract concepts as justice, beauty, or intellect. The implications of something being fair has profound effects on the resulting philosophy and morality of related ideas and decisions. When considering the structure of society, law, economics, and other cultural strictures, fairness is notably important, thus necessitating the importance of the attempt to define.
As the task is broken up into manageable portions of the overall conception, fairness becomes easier to understand. Concerning its meaning and application, the following few important distinctions can be remembered.
In this sense, as is commonly referred to, “fairness” represents the idea that all beings or other sets are to be individually treated with the same reaction in a given situation. When the treatment changes for one subset in the population, the result is “unfair.”
For example, a disturbing portion of American history, especially in its Southern region, displays institutional racial prejudice in the de factor Jim Crow laws, whereas African Americans were completely forbidden from partaking in many of the same goods and services that whites were perfectly allowed to. While these practices were later prohibited, they will long be remembered for providing a starkly transparent example of unfairness.
A somewhat more intractable facet of fairness is in opportunity, rather than treatment. After all, it takes a second person to treat the first unfairly, and that interaction can easily be seen and judged. But when it comes to opportunity, is it not a solitary pursuit? How does a culture condone or determine fairness per each individual in their own available choices?
Ultimately, the result is that absolute fairness in opportunity does not occur; however, it is worth striving for as a societal ideal. For instance, it can be argued that capitalism causes an unfair disparity in fiscal spread, with lower-income families earning much, much less than the higher-income, thus encountering remarkably more difficult circumstances in every day life. Is this fair, even if in their circumstances both parties are treated equally? Can their very availability of opportunity be considered unfair?
Since all human beings have, or should have, the same relative worth, they should be given the same opportunities. The situation is complicated when person choose to limit their own opportunities, or when they were placed in circumstances they could not control. In the case of their own choice to debilitate their own future, this is fair, as long as every person has the same choice for self-destruction. In other cases, we witness unfairness; but, it is an unfairness that governments take as their responsibility to correct in order to promote a more ideal, more equal population.
While those concepts cover the bulk of fairness and the difficulties of its definition in moral terms, there are other definitions as well. They include indicating something of moderate size, as in “fair income”; a state of visible clarity in meteorology, as in “a fair sky”; neither excellent nor poor, as in “fair quality”; of a light hue, as in “fair-skinned”; and pleasing in appearance, as in “fair young maiden.”
Just as with many other words that represent broad concepts, the exact nature and definition of fairness will go on to be discussed and debated at length for centuries to come. Its most important roots for its moral meaning, though, are based in the equality of treatment and opportunity for all.