Fairness Defined

by Steven Suranovic ©2001






Fairness is a normative principle. It is a principle used to suggest outcomes or actions that ought to, or should, occur. To be fair is good; to be unfair is bad. To be fair is right; to be unfair is wrong. To be fair is just, to be unfair is unjust. To be fair is ethical; to be unfair is unethical.  Actions and outcomes ought to be fair, they ought to be just, and they ought to be ethical.  Unfair actions and outcomes should be opposed, they should be avoided, and they should be reversed or eliminated.

As a normative principle, fairness clearly overlaps with other commonly used normative terms such as justice, equity, equality, and morality. Perhaps it is possible to define boundaries around these terms. Perhaps one could argue that some action is related to fairness but unrelated to justice, or is moral but does not have anything to do with fairness.Such an exercise might even yield some useful insights about the differences between these terms. However, in a simpler sense, when someone argues that something is unfair, she may merely be expressing a normative sentiment that may relate to any one of these commonly used terms. Rather than attempting to distinguish these normative terms from each other, I will instead present a comprehensive list of commonly applied normative principles.  Each principle will represent a unique reason why certain actions or outcomes ought to arise.  In each case, it will be suggested that fairness is sometimes invoked in applying that principle, even though in some cases the normative principle may seem to relate more to some other norm, such as morality, rather than to fairness.    Nevertheless, we shall refer to the following principles as "fairness principles," despite the fact that they clearly have a broader applicability and usage.

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International Trade Fairness Notes: ©2001 Steven M. Suranovic
Last Updated on 8/2/01