Monday, 1 September 2014


You hear it all the time.

That’s fair /that’s not fair.

Life’s fair / life’s not fair / life’s good, but not fair at all.

So WTF does “fairness” actually mean, why is there so much confusion about it, and why is there so much politics that takes advantage of this confusion?

Philosopher Stephen Hicks analyses fairness, politics, ethics … and tennis.

Fairness is a key concept of ethics but if you ask three philosophers what it means, you will get four different answers. Many of our ongoing public policy debates turn on competing conceptions of what is and is not fair.

  • Insider trading: If the seller of a stock knows something the buyer doesn’t and couldn’t know, does that make the trade unfair?
  • Telecommunications and the “Fairness Doctrine”: If a radio station criticises a public figure, in the name of fairness should government regulators require the station to give airtime for the public figure’s response?
  • Campaign finance: If one political candidate raises significantly more funds than her competitor, will the election be fair?

But let’s use [a] tennis match to show how often we appeal to two very different standards in answering questions of fairness….

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