Fairness Discussion Unfair to Foreigners
Jim Henley, blogging into the Google Reader comment share ether, retorts:
I remember the days we were assured there was no word for ‘freedom’ in Russian. That was bullshit. ‘There’s no one-to-one translation of *fair* into other languages’ sounds like more of the same crap. As it happens, Google’s translater spits out one-for-one, reversible translations of ‘fair’ for Spanish and English. I got bored after I did those two. I suspect this is another case of an academic specialist’s research and vocabulary being misappropriated and stripped of important qualifiers within her own discipline.
As much as I’m flattered by the notion that “fairness” is somehow an Anglo-American concept, I’d have to concur.
Beyond the factoid, however, I think Wilson’s larger argument is also BS.
For the original antonym of fair is not, as most modern Americans would probably expect, unfair. If you want to understand the roots of fairness, look not to ethicists, but to baseball, which still uses the original dichotomy. If a ball is hit outside the bounds of fair play, it’s not unfair–it’s foul. That’s an important clue. As Columbia law professor George Fletcher had noted in his 1996 book Basic Concepts of Legal Thought, the Anglo-American notion of fairness is firmly rooted in the rules of a game.
Uh, no. In a widely-cited study that Dave Schuler remarked upon recently, dogs have a strong sense of fair play. Are we really to believe that other human civilizations are less socially evolved than man’s best friend?
Photo by Flickr user mringlein, used under Creative Commons license