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In this essay from my forthcoming book, Crooked Thinking or Straight Talk? Epicurus Shows the Way, I have discussed evolutionary ethics, the Golden Rule, utilitarianism and egalitarianism, social consensus, traditional social contracts, and the widening scope of fairness norms. I have proposed seeking to use the egalitarian fairness norms that I think we use to solve small-scale problems to address the large-scale problem of improving our social contract. I have explained that fairness comes after efficiency—that is, fairness norms only arise at the third level of priority in the idealized approach that I describe. They exist as selection devices when multiple equilibria are available—which is all of the time when repeated games are involved. The real questions to be answered are: How can we improve what we have got already? What gains are possible relative to the current status quo?  The fairness norms we actually use in real life aren’t shadows cast by some absolute noumenal world; they are simply social tools washed up on our evolutionary beach. If enough of us sufficiently near the levers of power want to use them to improve how big societies work, let us just get on and do it. We don’t need to invent the kind of metaphysical justifications that traditionalists think necessary. It is enough that we want to do it. Perhaps we would want to do something else if our histories—both personal and social—had been different, but so what?

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Cite as

Ken Binmore, Fairness, 4 Criterion J. on Innovation 533 (2019).