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18 “The Principle of Fairness”


Academic year: 2022

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1) Le principe d’équité (“the principle of fairness/fair-play ») :

I now turn to one of the principles that applies to individuals, the principle of fairness. I shall try to use this principle to account for all requirements that are obligations as distinct from natural duties. This principle holds that a person is required to do his part as defined by the rules of an institution when two conditions are met : first, the institution is just (fair), that is, it satisfies the two principles of justice ; and second, one has voluntarily accepted the benefits of the arrangement or taken advantage of the opportunities it offers to further one’s interests. The main idea is that when a number of persons engage in a mutually advantageous cooperative venture according to rules, and thus restrict their liberty in ways necessary to yield advantages for all, those who have submitted to these restrictions have a right to a similar acquiescence on the part of those who have benefited from their submission. We are not to gain from the cooperative labors of others without doing our fair share.

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, § 18 “The Principle of Fairness”.

2) Le principe de fidélité :

First a bona fide promise is one which arises in accordance with the rule of promising when the practice it represents is just. Once a person says the words “I promise to do X” in the appropriate circumstances as defined by a just practice, he has made a bona fide promise. Next, the principle of fidelity is the principle that bona fide promises are to be kept. It is essential, as noted above, to distinguish between the rule of promising and the principle of fidelity. The rule is simply a constitutive convention, whereas the principle of fidelity is a moral principle, a consequence of the principle of fairness. For suppose that a just practice of promising exists. Then in making a promise, that is, in saying the words “I promise to do X” in the appropriate circumstances, one knowingly invokes the rule and accepts the benefit of a just arrangement. There is no obligation to make a promise, let us assume ; one is at liberty to do so or not. But since by hypothesis the practice is just, the principle of fairness applies, and one is to do as the rule specifies, that is, one is to do X. The obligation to keep a promise is a consequence of the principle of fairness.

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, § 52 “The Arguments for the Principle of Fairness”.


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