Justice vs. Fairness

Our society tends to equate the notion of fairness with that of justice; treating them as though they are interchangeable concepts.  While this may be true if their definitions are carefully and clearly asserted, in practice, they most often do not mean the same thing.  In fact, they usually express opposing ideas.  One is objective, the other subjective.  One deals with universal principles that apply equally to all societies and which do not change with time; the other deals with popular sentiment and is subject to change between societies and times.  One is subject to reasoned correction; the other is subject to emotional manipulation.  One is a foundational principle of liberty; the other is an enemy of liberty.

Justice is the impartial application of the law as derived from the principles of Natural Law. It is rooted in universal principles that apply to all people, everywhere and at all times.  These principles do not change with societies or time.  They are founded upon the first principle that the individual owns his own will. Justice recognizes the equal claim every individual has in this first principle and in the rest of their Natural Rights.  It protects the individual from encroachment upon these individual rights so that the individual can be secure enough to exercise liberty.  Should someone encroach on the rights of another, justice provides a means of restraining that encroachment and making restitution when necessary.  And, should a law be made that violates the principles of Natural Law, justice provides a path of reasoned correction to put the law back in harmony with those principles.

On the other hand, fairness is a biased assertion of individual opinion.  It is rooted in assumptions that change with societies and over time.  These assumptions are not fixed; they change frequently, even within a given society.  They are founded primarily on the notion of what ought to be as opposed to what is.  Fairness subjugates the rights of the individual to the enforcement of these notions of how things should be.  Fairness provides no protections to the individual, nor does it provide for a reasoned path of correction.  In fact, fairness admits to the ‘right’ to make law as necessary to further the purpose of whatever it is believed should be as opposed to what is.

EXAMPLE: justice upholds Natural Law whereas fairness most often undermines it.  The battle between a free market and Marxism is the perfect example.  The free market (not ‘Capitalism’) is the Natural Order of economic exchange among free men.  Marxism is the subversion of this Natural Order in order to establish the Marxist ideal of how men should conduct their business.  The free market is based on the objective principle of merit and free exchange between individuals.  In such a system, justice seeks to insure a level playing field where every individual can compete without having their Natural Rights encroached upon by others.  Laws are written to insure this ideal and, when a law is violated, it is enforced equally and consistently, regardless to the socioeconomic status of the violator.  Marxism is based on the subjective notion that fairness requires all people to be equal in material terms, in which case, justice is perverted to the enforcement of whatever is thought necessary to enforce material equality.  Such a system will naturally favor those thought to be victims, while being directed more harshly at those thought to be exploiting the victims.  The proof that the free market is the Natural Order came during the Communist Revolution in Russia, where the Communists were forced to return to free market principles to keep the nation from starving.  Justice seeks to protect the individual; fairness seeks to enforce an idea.  As such, they are not equal, they are opposites.

ADDENDUM

This post is among the most read on the Road to Concord — and most disputed.  Consequently, I have added the following to expand upon the distinction I tried to make in the original post.

When I speak of justice, I am referring to the manner by which the legal system of a given society is applied.  We often hear referred to as “The Rule of Law.” ‘Justice’ is the impartial and consistent understanding and application of a society’s laws.  It applies both to the way the laws are understood and applied.  In a just society, the laws must first conform to Natural Law.  Then, they must be consistently and impartially understood and applied.  In other words, the same understanding of a law, and consequences for breaking it, must be applied to everyone who is accused of violating a given law regardless of the accused person’s socioeconomic status int hat society.  If a government leader is accused of theft, they must be tried and — if convicted — sentenced in the exact same way as a beggar would be were they accused of an equal crime.

‘Fairness’ is more a measure of what one believes is just regardless of what the laws say.  In the above example, some might think that it is unfair to treat a government official in the same manner as a poor beggar.  In some cases, a person might seek to excuse the government official because of their perceived importance to society, while seeking to be harsh with the beggar for the same reason.  But another person might believe it is ‘fair’ to excuse the beggar because or some perceived harm the government official has done to the poor man, and thus, seek to be harsh on the government official.  We often see this dichotomy when we speak about ‘social justice.’

In fact, ‘social justice’ is a perfect example of how justice and fairness often work in opposition to each other.  If we seek justice, then we do not think in terms of ‘fairness.’  We simply look to the law, evaluate it to determine whether or not it has been violated and, if it has, apply the prescribed punishment to whomever is determined to have broken the law.  Who you are and how much material wealth you have is never a factor in this consideration — not in a just society, anyway.  In this way, ‘justice’ is not only blind, but it is impartial.  It is merely a process, and that makes it objective (by definition).

But ‘social justice’ is based upon an unjust assumption.  It is based on the assumption that ‘justice’ is based on the amount of material wealth each member of society possesses.  Consequently, laws are either written or ‘interpreted’ so that they favor those who are assumed to be ‘victims’ at the expense of those ‘assumed’ to be exploiting the presumed ‘victims.’  But notice, there is a presumption of guilt and innocence based not on the law, but on material possessions.  This is the negation of ‘justice,’ because it is not only based on a false assumption, but it punishes those who have done nothing wrong while often rewarding those who have.  This is an arbitrary process and that is why it is a subjective system (by definition).  It is why all systems based on ‘fairness’ — as it is most commonly asserted today — are subjective.  They are just the imposition of one person;s will upon another.

I’ll close with another illustration designed to make my point by shocking the reader’s sensibilities by intentionally incorporating an emotionally charged issue.  Many people argue that it is only ‘fair’ to provide every member of society with free healthcare.  Healthcare is not a material thing, but a service.  Service implies the labor of another person.  This is directly connected to Natural law through the notion of free will.  But this is slavery: the forcing of one person to work for the benefit of another.  In order to provide ‘free’ healthcare to all, money has to be taken from one person to pay for another, or healthcare personnel must be forced to work for free.  Either way, the government is forcing someone to work for the benefit of another.  These are not ‘opinions:’ they are definitions (and Constitutional definitions, at that).  But the people who think free healthcare is only ‘fair’ will not see it this way.  So, let me ask the question in another way: “When did slavery become ‘fair?'”  And if it is ‘fair,’ then why is it acceptable to wage war on white people in this country today for something that is now considered to be ‘fair?’  Is it because it is ‘fair’ to attack whites but not blacks?  If that’s true, then how are blacks (and those who join with them) not the racists today?  And to those who would argue that it is ‘fair’ for whites today to pay for the supposed ‘sins’ of the past, how?  If it is ‘fair’ to force people to pay for your healthcare, why was it not ‘fair’ to force blacks to work for whites and blacks in the past (yes, blacks owned black slaves in this nation — even in the South)?

Do you see the mess that is made when we think in terms of ‘fairness?’  There is no standard by which to measure anything other than a person’s ‘feelings,’ therefore, what is ‘fair’ in one case may be deemed ‘unfair’ in another when they are — in fact — the exact same thing, only in different forms.  Slavery in the past is no different from forcing people to work for the welfare of others today.  it is still the forcing of another persons labor and will, and that is a violation of Natural law.  This is why ‘fairness’ is not ‘justice:’ because — as we think of it today — fairness is lawlessness, and lawlessness is the negation of justice.

 

18 responses to “Justice vs. Fairness

  1. Fairness. definetley fairness is better!

    • Do you really believe that? OK, then I say it is ‘fair’ for you to be my slave. Guess what? You have no moral grounds upon which to object — either to my version of what is fair, or my claim to your life.

      This is why fairness has no part in justice, and why justice has nothing to do with fairness.

  2. Jean H. Broeckx - Castlegar, BC Canada

    What is justice is defined by “The Rule Of Law”, a law decreed by the most powerful people in the world, a minority of privileged warlords, and churchmen, whose justice allowed them (as a team) to displace, dominate, pillage, murder, and enslave, entire races of human beings, the rule of law supported those crimes against humanity, and to this day has turned a blind eye to all attempts made to charge and correct the true perpetrators of the crimes, which is the blood descendants of very people who decreed and imposed the rule of law on all humanity below their self declared station. The rule of Law is a weapon created by the powerful for the purpose tying all people of lower station in a position of servitude to the upper class will, it was born of ill will, with a eye toward inflicting social injustice on the weak, it does that, to this day. It is obscene, even to equate it with the notion of providing justice. We need a whole new set of laws, unbiased laws, which protect the powerless from the powerful.

    • Your Progressive revisionism and post modern decontructivism do not work here. Here, the rule of logic and reason rule the day. This is how and why we know that what you describe is the perversion of the law, not the rule of law. Your attempts to equate the two will not stand up to scrutiny. So, please, do not come here with these perverted interpretations that exist only in the minds of those who twist reality. They are too easily defeated — and this entire blog bares testimony to this FACT!

  3. I have a debate on this exact subject. HELP!!

  4. Great article! Gets to very core of so many issues. It amazes me that there is such a large proportion of American citizenry that are so ignorant of even this most fundamental notion. But it IS this notion that forms the bedrock on which the nation once rested – before being systematically dismantled by the nation’s self-appointed reformers and transformers. They’re transforming it alright…. but nobody in their right mind will want to dwell in their society of drones and oligarchs

  5. I think your premise is ridiculous. Justice diesnt change over time or society? According to who? You? Back in the Romans days thrives got crucified. That was considered justice, now they are temporarily put in jail or prison and then released. When they get sentenced to prison many says justice was done. Justice is rooted in fairness. Both ideas of fairness and justice are subjective and change with time and societies.

    • You think it is ridiculous because you do not understand the issue. I say this because your words demonstrate it. In your own examples, the Romans and modern times, you show that — in both times — there was a sense of “justice” (Punishment for wrong doing). But then you demonstrate that you think this is connected to “fairness.” The problem and source of your confusion is that one is objective and the other subjective.

      Justice is objective in that every society has a notion of right/wrong. I do not care what form that notion takes: that is not the point. The point is that all societies have this notion; therefore, the thing we call “justice” exists.

      You, however, then equate “justice” with “fairness.” OK, let’s look at your example of the Roman’s crucifying thieves. Are you aware that crucifixion was ONLY for the lowest members of society? And that Roman law did not allow for crucifixion of Roman citizens? So we already have two different rules here: one for the poorest members of society, and another for Roman citizens. Now, I ask you, how is that “fair?” You see, “fair” lies in the eyes of the beholder. A modern example would be the belief that it is “fair” to tax “the rich” at higher rates than t”the poor.” While people may call that “fair,” it is not “just” because it treats people differently based on subjective criteria.

      This is the heart of the issue, and the distinction you do not seem to understand (or wish to understand, I don’t know which).

  6. Austin Drew Gomez

    Btw its the same thing. Just has same meanings but the word has more explanation than the other (Justice-Fairness)

    • No, the two do NOT have the same meaning. One has an objective standard by which it can be judged while the other is entirely subjective and has meaning only to the individual. Thus, Justice has an external definition, but fairness can only be defined internally. NOT the same thing — not at all. In fact, they can and often negate each other.

  7. Pingback: Writing Prompt #12: Due Date: 22 February 2017 | Mr. Patrick J. Butler's English 12 Hons: Humanities Course

  8. Sorry but I thnk youv got it totally backwards in an effort to us these words to support your own political/economic views. The two words are very similar and usually work hand in hand together. Justice means you get what you deserve. Not neccesarilly objective. In some countries a persons hand is cut off for stealing a loaf of bread. People of that society would consider that they got what they deserved (justice was done). In other societies the offender might have to pay back the value of the loaf with money or labor. Totally different punishment but people of that society would consider that they got what they deserved (justice was done.)

    Fairness by definition is th opposite of personal bias! In your third paragraph you seem to say that fairness equals bias. Thats totally wrong! Referring to the example of the Roman theft and crucifiction:
    If the Roman society believed that a poor thief deserved crucifiction then Justice was done when he recieved that punishment. If the Roman society believed that a rich thief deserved some other punishent and that punishment was imposed then that person got what they deserved and justices was done. This however is totally unfair because it is biased. Two different standards for two different people for the same crime biased by a factor that had nothing to do with the crime itself.

    Unfairness is generally detremental to one party and beneficial to the other. Clearly the unfairness of the situatin in the Roman example was very convenient and beneficial for the one who was a monied citizen and detremental for the person who was poor. I dont think you would like it very much if you were the one suffering detriment due to being treated unfairly. I bet you would learn to value fairness real fast after experiencing that.

    • See, your comment is the perfect example of what I am trying to explain. You have the ideas backward, and for the very reason you think I have them backward.

      Justice deals with the fair and impartial application of the law. If the law says poor thieves get crucified but rich thieves are treated differently (which is not exactly how that worked, by the way), then so long as the law is always applied the same way, that is justice. The problem, however, is that the law can and often is in contradiction to Natural Law. This is where people start to talk in terms of ‘fairness,’ but they can be just as wrong as the law.

      A good example here is the notion of ‘social justice.’ Because some people think it is not ‘fair’ for some people to be wealthy and others to be poor, they use the law to try and make things balance out closer to the way they think things should be. To them, it is about fairness, not the law. The problem, however, is that this desire for ‘fairness’ often leads to the law being applied unequally. Where the same law may be applied with full force to a ‘rich’ man, the ‘poor’ man may be excused all together for violating the same law in the same way.

      You see, “fairness” is all in the eye of the beholder. This is why it is subjective. What you see as unfair in Roman law was seen by Roman citizens at perfectly fair. You are choosing to look at things through the eye of the poor thief, not the rich one.

      On the other hand, justice is about the equal and consistent application of the law to all people, no matter their status. This is objective because it provides a measure against which every sentence can be measured. One simply needs to look to how the law was applied in the past and then follow that precedent irregardless to whom it is being applied.

      Now, if you object to there being two sets of laws — one for the rich and one for the poor — then that is a different issue, but still isn’t about fairness. It is still about justice. This is because, under Natural Law, there can only be one set of laws, and they must be applied equally to all. Therefore, what you actually have is an unjust society or legal system. That is not ‘fairness,’ because there will be people who disagree as to whether or not it is ‘fair.’ It is about justice, because there is an objective standard by which to measure that unjust system — NATURAL LAW!

  9. Hello, I participate in a National Speech and debate club and the topic for debate this year is this: Rehabilitation ought to be valued above retribution in criminal justice systems. You debate both sides of the issue so I have to show why rehabilitation should be valued higher and I have to show why retribution should be valued higher depending on which side is chosen.

    The topic of discussion on the affirmative side (for rehabilitation) is that justice is subjective, there is no way to measure justice and that in regards to proportional punishment, that cannot be measured either.

    This leads me to the question, How do you effectively argue on the negative side (for retribution) that justice is not subjective and that it is the only standard to which we should uphold punishment and the criminal justice system? The affirmative side usually argues that we cannot measure justice, therefore it is subjective.

    For further clarification, most debates on affirmative value Social Wellbeing, Quality of Life, and reduced recidivism while the negative side usually values justice. (also we are debating in Lincoln-Douglas style)

    Thank you for your help

    • Let me see if I can help you.

      First, the side favoring rehabilitation is trying to frame the conversation to favor their position. Justice has a definition, and they do not get to re-define it. Make sure you force them to define their concept of justice and, if they are wrong correct them. Then hold the line: defend the actual definition of justice and force them to remain consistent with theirs.

      Second: justice — as I have tried to explain it — cannot be subjective. if it is, then it is not justice. Therefore, justice must be the impartial and consistent application of the laws. Now, if they have a problem with the laws, THAT is a totally different subject. Do not let them confuse or equate the two.

      Once we accept that the concept of justice must be an impartial and consistent application of the laws, it follows that justice is impartial (i.e. objective). This is because the law is the standard against which we measure our treatment of offenders — not the sentence. Once it is established that a given law has been broken, the sentence should be axiomatic.

      The notion of ‘fairness,’ on the other hand, IS subjective. I believe that my definition of justice is fair, but the person who thinks we should rehabilitate people would most likely disagree. They would take everything on a case-by-case basis, which it the negation of justice. If we do so, why even have laws? Such a practice destroys the notion of law and replaces it with the whim of whomever happens to be handling a given case. This is defined as the rule of men, and it is the negation of justice.

      Finally, be sure to press the side advocating rehabilitation. Not only is society formed to protect the law-abiding from those who do not recognize or conform to it, but many studies have shown that rehabilitation does not work. I know, I had to study them when I was earning my sociology degree. Sexual offenders are a prime example. They simply do not ‘rehabilitate.’ Nor do ‘habitual criminals.’ Lawlessness is all they know, and it is all they will ever know. In such cases, society owes these people nothing. In fact, society doesn’t even owe them a life. This is why many prison systems left a person’s family to provide for them. No family, you died.

      Which brings us to one more thing you need to consider. Many of those who will be on the side of rehabilitation are not actually seeking justice at all. They are acting on a misguided notion of mercy. Do not get me wrong: mercy is a valuable part of justice, but it should be left to the jury, not the judge. What’s more, we need to understand when and where mercy is appropriate and how it should be applied. It is not ‘merciful’ to keep letting people get away with offenses against society. This is how society trains such people to become ‘habitual criminals.’ But it IS merciful to allow a person to pay back whatever harm or damage they caused TO THE PARTY THEY HARMED (not the govt), plus an additional fee (traditionally 20%). This keeps a person out of jail, but also shows them they must make good on the harm they did. THAT is mercy properly applied. But to just slap a person on the wrist and let them go… No, that is not mercy, nor ‘fair’ — as the law breaker does not learn and the victim is not compensated.

      Hope this helps.

  10. it is unfortunate that the article does not refer to any (credible) authority. It is also a one-sided treatment of the complex relationship between justice and fairness.

    • An appeal to authority over an actual argument is a fallacy — as is your “opinion’ of what is one-sided. See, you would think I have been “unfair,” which actually helps to demonstrate my point. You felt comfortable stating your objection, but didn’t provide anything to support it other than your “feelings.” This is EXACTLY why fairness can and will never be objective: because it is always in the eye of the one issuing the opinion.

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