How Different Values Inform Our Perception Of Fairness

At the core of many beings is a principle of human nature that strives for equity and fairness amongst all. Undertaking a four-day intensive course at university on justice and development deepened to a greater extent than I thought possible the very essence of these two concepts. It taught me that my perception of justice and fairness is not universal. That wasn’t an unbearable realisation, but a necessary one. What I view to be the most equitable option is purely informed by my values. The perception of justice varies amongst human beings depending on beliefs, value systems and life experiences.

Suppose that there is a perfectly brand new and good quality guitar that must be gifted to someone in a village town. The choice of who is to be the guitar owner is between three young individuals. Jac comes from the wealthiest family in the village and has a very secure lifestyle. Anne has been learning the guitar since she was young and has an exceptional understanding of the instrument. Bill comes from a poor family who are struggling to make ends meet. Immediately after reading about these three young individuals, you will have a name resonating in your head. The story of this person directly or subconsciously connects you with what you understand fairness to be.

The choice of Jac sees fairness as being the delivery of rewards for the hard working. Through success and privilege, it is inevitable that positive reinforcements should follow. What this choice and justification fails to recognise, is that many factors act to enable success, which may have little to do with individuals themselves. Opportunities are at times presented through means of luck rather than hard work. Utilitarians would select Anne as their choice, as she would seemingly be the one best able to utilise the guitar and maximise happiness amongst the community.  Proponents of Anne may believe that she could provide lessons to others, or entertain her community. However, would the delivery of the guitar to Anne be truly the most just choice? That she is advanced in guitar playing already suggests she already owns a guitar, and has been afforded the opportunity to learn how to play the instrument. The assumption that by gifting the guitar to Anne will result in the greatest possible level of happiness within the community cannot be disproven, but cannot be proven.

Bill was my choice and the choice of most fellow students. At the end of the course, students that had selected Jac or Anne originally had shifted to pick Bill toward the end. I did not only immediately pick Bill because he comes from the poorest family, but for an intersection of reasons. What should not be overlooked with the choice of Bill is the potential opportunity that arises for hard work and utilitarian assurances to flow. We must recognise the connection between opportunity and capability in allowing for true and enriched justice to exist. Although a simple exercise that does not merely scrape the surface of all complexities, I encourage you to question what values inform your perception of fairness.


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