Subjective fairness.

I always feel happy when I see philosophy in the mainstream media, even if nine times out of ten the discussions are abysmal. Part of the reason is limited length and desperate attempts to retain accessibility, but it’s also surely to do with the fact that the journalists speculating about morality or political theory won’t have tackled those topics academically for years, if at all.

A recent Economist blog on fairness, then, did little to buck the trend. There’s a nice reasoned attack on meritocracy, but that aside it descends into messiness. But there is a cracker of a paragraph at the beginning refusing to bow to the bullshit subjectivist position that we shouldn’t even bother to have the discussion:

Mr Adams begins by arguing that there’s no point discussing fairness because “Fairness isn’t a natural part of the universe. It’s purely subjective.” This is gibberish; I don’t understand what it’s supposed to mean. There is not a human being on earth who does not have a conception of fairness and is not a psychopath. On what grounds can inalienable aspects of human consciousness be ruled not “natural parts of the universe”? Other such aspects of human consciousness include morality, reason, logic, freedom, comprehensibility and value itself. Are these natural parts of the universe? They’re not made of quarks or photons. Is value itself “purely subjective”, unmeasurable and thus not worth talking about? At one level, sort of; at another level, if you think value is purely subjective and unmeasurable, then you shouldn’t be reading a publication called “The Economist”.

Obviously some of the premises here would ideally need unpacking, but the point is a punchy one, and it should help shut overconfident skeptics up.


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