Monday 28 March 2011

Envy and the Feeling of Fairness

We feel things to be unfair. Within the social dynamic of a society, a business, even a family, we might see others gaining opportunities or advantages that we feel are barred to us. Saying "it isn't fair" is perhaps the first response to dealing with the disappointment.

We might say "how do they manage to have such lovely houses/cars/partners/children when I have to struggle?" At the same time, we know that the means by which others have achieved their advantage is not illegal (on the whole, although this might be insinuated) or even unjust: they are not necessarily subject to 'special treatment', or "one law for them, another for the rest of us!". And the perception of fairness or unfairness can be tinged with envy which has little to do with any objective state of social affairs, but rather a psychological state.

But the attribution of 'unfairness' is common in our society, and often identified by others observing a social relation who have not direct personal involvement. The problem centres around the fact that Justice makes no allowance for the differences in Capabilities between individuals. For the distinguishing feature between those that have the nice house/car/family etc and those that don't rests on their Capabilities. Furthermore, some of those Capabilities owe to capital wealth - either through money, or Social capital ("it's not what you know, it's who you know!"). But they also rest on individual Capabilities in being able to communicate effectively in establishing increased social capital (cultural capital is linked to this, but I think there are other aspects of individual make-up which contribute too).

The capabilities of individuals cannot necessarily be addressed through the increase in monetary wealth. It may be that monetary wealth can even reduce overall capacity as it overwhelms and introduces new complexities. It may be that the capabilities of individuals can only be addressed through education.

Is it correct that education is at the heart of a 'campaign' to combat unfairness? Is unfairness to be combatted, or merely to be managed? Does Ibn Khaldun's definition of government ("to prevent injustice other than that which it creates itself") also apply to unfairness? How does charging for education affect this picture?

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