What are the differences between justice and fairness?





What are the differences between justice and fairness?


It is often assumed that there exist no difference between justice and fairness. The two ideas are very difficult to separate. It is somehow assumed that justice and fairness have equal importance. This paper argues that there are important dissimilarities between the two terms. It is important to understand that justice and fairness discuss different ideas. It is correct to say that they have different definitions. To add on, the two terms mean unlike things in practice thus it raises a disagreement with the arguments that fairness is a concept of justice. Some individuals claim that even though the idea of justice and fairness may be different, justice can only prevail if there is fairness. This paper will try to demonstrate that the previously mentioned views are mistaken through highlighting an essential feature of fairness and showing its implications.


            Fairness is concerned with the reasonable treatment given to the members of a particular group when the benefits and burdens are distributed in the process of rules and laws administration, during cooperation and competition among members in a group, and during punishments for wrongs or compensations on suffering incurred.

Justice and fairness are often used interchangeably (Mandal, 2010, p. 60).This case is because fairness is perceived as a key part of justice in serious situations. This explanation applies the broader view that reflects justice and fairness as connected concepts. There exist obvious similarities of the ideas of fairness and justice.

The meaning of fairness is frequently hard to explain and can change depending on the situation that the term is being used (Rist, 2002, p. 135). In order to understand, there are various key points that need to be put across. First, unfairness may be portrayed in situations where different people are not treated in a similar manner, unless there exist relevant differences among them. This may be complicated to judge because it is not clear what people ought to consider being relevant variances in each case. Considering the example of patients in hospitals. Private hospitals are more expensive than public hospitals. The health services administered in the private hospitals is of much quality than in public hospital. The rich people in the society mostly attend private hospitals where they get best services. In this case, one may ask if there is fairness in healthcare.

Secondly, equality is an important concept that is related to fairness. It is not clear, whether individuals should be considered or if individuals need to prove the existence of similarities. It is clear that if a person feels that he has been treated unfairly because of lack of equality, then the burden of proving the unequal treatment is on the person endorsing it.

The third discussion is based on the notion that people different people get what they deserve according to what they have done. In other words, discussing equality, actions of a particular person are supposed to be factored in when determining the treatment they deserve and whether this treatment is fair or unfair.

The fourth and last discussion is based on an individual’s moral rights. Individuals are treated dishonestly when their ethical rights are violated. For example, a patient in a hospital has a privacy right and then the right is violated or invaded then the patient has been treated unfairly. Assuming a broader sense, justice is the action in accordance with the law requirement. Some people uphold that justice comes from God’s command and others consider that justice is innate in the nature itself. Others still believe that justice comprises of rules that are common to all humankind that comes from some agreement. This type of justice is commonly thought as something greater than a society’s legitimate system.

The idea of fairness

Some people use the word fairness to mean justice; even those who do not use the term to mean justice use it in a somehow confused and mainly emotional way. When used in speech, the word fairness does not refer to any noticeable concept (Reif, 2013, p.104). However, there is at least a feature of fairness also used in daily language.

Let us consider those people who inherit huge amounts of money. The supporter of a fair society might question if particular individuals should benefit from finding themselves in rich families without working hard while some other people work very hard to earn a little. A rich person who inherited wealth did nothing to get it; also, a child taken to a private school contributed nothing to her parent’s ability to provide a better schooling. This bonds fairness to the exclusion of luck. If justice requires that a person’s position in the society be related to relevant reasons, then it is right to say that fairness is about a person’s position that is determined by aspects within his/her control as opposed to fairness being influenced by luck.

The idea of justice

It is normally agreed that the idea of justice insinuates that individuals should receive from the government their due. The responsibility of the government comes from the responsibilities of persons towards one another because the responsibility of the state is to ensure that these responsibilities are maintained. Justice is only concerned with what is ethically expected from an individual rather that what is ethically worthy to do (Goldman, 2014, p. 1). A decent example is health care charity, which presumes that it is not a requisite of justice. Charity implies something extra that can be defined as morally good, but people are not forced to do.

Justice should not be confused with a comprehensive vision of a good society. What should be considered as charitable giving and requirement of justice is an issue that requires a significant debate. An important question of discussion is if the rich people have an ethical obligation to pay state taxes in order to assist the poor people in the society. This discussion poses a thought of what responsibilities people have towards one another. The main idea here is the idea of relevance that means that there must be a relevant reason for the rich to have more wealth than the poor people. Some people may argue that justice is about protecting the possessions rights and a person’s freedom. If these rights are maintained, any subsequent differences are justified by appropriate reasons irrespective of whether the affluence distribution reveals what people deserve.

However, it is unclear from the simple notion of justice what people should regard as significant reasons for handling individuals differently. Some other people define justice as a moral obligation and related activities, contrary, moral obligation rise within the scope of moral duty.

The importance of the moral obligation

In the course of differentiating fairness from justice, we differentiate it from moral responsibility. This means that the society cannot be fair. It is required that the society must adhere to the principles of justice and not of fairness. This feature of justice makes it essentially more significant than fairness or some other virtue. People simply have a moral obligation to other people meaning that people have responsibilities to each other. If it is established that the public has a responsibility to treat individuals in a certain way, it is not necessary to argue that the responsibility is in some way subsidiary to fairness claims. There may rise arguments that it is morally required for a society to be fair. These arguments simply mean that justice requires people to be fair. This implies that justice comes first, and fairness arises only if justice requires it to. Thus, justice is the first feature of community institutions.

Justice as fairness

From the explanations in these arguments, it is evident that justice and fairness concepts are distinct but justice is of more importance. Various philosophers have assumed fairness is the origin of justice. They argue that justice and fairness have a similar meaning in practice. However, this is a mistake and the distinction between them extend past the dissimilarities between the ideas of these concepts. With the explanations of the two concepts explained in this paper, a person who considers justice as fairness considers that having an individual’s due determined by applicable reasons means having individuals due determined by reasons within one’s control. This means that a society that considers justice as fairness must see any imbalances of result determined by these manageable factors (Painter-Morland & René ten, 2011, p. 216).

Many people perceive a fair society as a society that is governed by the principle of equality of opportunity. Remembering fairness examples that were examined before when identifying the fairness concept, the people’s perception of fairness seems sensible enough. There are three types of equality of opportunity. The first type is known as the liberal view where outcome differences are not influenced by factors like gender and sexuality. Gender and sexuality are not with any person’s control. The next type of view is the left-liberal view. This view prevents people from being judged by social circumstances. For instance, education system in United Kingdom does not promote the liberal view because it seems those who go to private schools have broader chances of joining top-level universities and later on getting highly- paid jobs (Goldman, Barry, and Russell Cropanzano,89). Official figures bring out the trend that two-thirds of A students that studied in the private sector joined the country’s leading institutions in the year 2010/11 in comparison to the less than 25% who studied in state schools. This gap has been widening in the recent years (Graeme, 2013).

Generally, it is the child’s background and other social circumstances that determine whether he/she will go to a private school. In this case, nobody has control of being born in a poor or wealthy family. According to the liberal view, variance of outcome reveal talent, struggle and choice.

Societies that approves a left-liberal understanding of equality of opportunity usually does not account for the inborn disadvantage. However, it is somehow difficult to escape the view that is not fair to be judged according inborn talent. Nobody is in control of whether a child will be born with a particular talent or not. Apparently, differences of outcome reflect the difference of choice and taste. Only this equality of opportunity version is very fair.

It is very interesting to note what socialist position needs. Considerably, it does not allow inequalities of result on the center of effort because the effort one works is beyond individual’s control. Particular individuals have a natural capability to work hard, and some children may benefit from their parents effort while others are not lucky.


Fairness and justice state different concepts. Justice is all about the state providing to people their dues while fairness involves public’s position in the society that is being determined by factors that are within their control. According to research and various discussions, fairness is not correct as a principle of justice because it is not possible to have inequalities of outcome that are determined by factors within the control of the people. Equality fails to offer incentives for the blessed to use their ability for others benefit. Various scholars oppose equality and in turn they support fairness and that misses the control aspect that is important to fairness. The thought of justice and fairness notions make justice essentially more important because of its associations with moral responsibility.






















Work Cited

Goldman, Barry, and Russell Cropanzano. ““Justice” and “fairness” are not the same         thing.” Journal of Organizational Behavior (2014).

Mandal, Smarajit Kr. Ethics in business and corporate governance. New Delhi: Tata McGraw-     Hill Education. (2010).

Painter-Morland, Mollie, and René ten Bos. Business ethics and continental philosophy.      Cambridge, UK: Cambridge      University Press (2011)

Rawls, John. A theory of justice. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.     (1999)

Reiff, Mark R. Exploitation and economic justice in the liberal capitalist state. Oxford:      Oxford University Press. (2013)

Rist, John M. Real ethics: reconsidering the foundations of morality. Cambridge, U.K.:      Cambridge University Press. (2002)

Graeme P., (2013).Private school pupils monopolising top university places.

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