Justice as Fairness Gained Through Wisdom, Truth and Knowledge
Fair-mindedness entails a conscious effort to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to one’s own feelings or self-interests, or the feelings of others, such as a friend or organization. Fairness is the underlying element of the philosophical concept of justice. Aristotle defined it more than 2,000 years ago: “equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally.” In other words, individuals should be treated the same unless they differ in ways that are relevant to the situation in which they are involved. For example, if two employees are being considered for a promotion, the final decision should be based on merit without introducing any bias or favoritism.
The problem with the standard definition of justice is in determining which criteria are morally relevant to distinguish between those who are equal and those who are not. It can be a difficult theory to apply in business if, for example, the CEO of a company decides to allocate a larger share of resources than warranted (justified), based on the results of operations, to one product line over another to promote that operation because it is judged to have more long-term expansion and income potential.
In such situations, it is important to consider the possible reaction of the manager in charge of the operation getting fewer resources but producing equal or better results. In other words, to walk in the shoes of that manager. She may believe that her operation (herself) has not been treated fairly. On the other hand, it could be said that the other manager deserves to receive a larger share of the resources because of the long-term potential of that other product line. That is, the product lines are not equal; the former deserves more resources because of its greater upside potential.
What does it mean to be intellectually fair-minded? In his book, Virtuous Minds, Philip Dow makes the case that there is a good deal of confusion about this trait. Many people wrongly equate intellectual fair-mindedness with some sort of relativism: fair-mindedness is in the eyes of the beholder.
While it is true that we should be open to new or different ideas and ways of thinking, this is not the same as the belief that all claims are equally valuable or worthy of acceptance. In fact, acceptance of this kind of relativism is antithetical to gaining wisdom through the experience and growth.
A relativistic openness is inconsistent with progress in the intellectual realm. Progress assumes a goal, an end that one is pursuing. In the realm of intellectual life, one might have a goal such as wisdom, truth, or knowledge. But the acceptance of relativism excludes these objective goals.
On the original question, Dow states that to be fair-minded is to “earnestly want to know the truth” and to be willing to listen in an even-handed way to differing opinions on the subject.” For the fair-minded person, the truth is more important than ego, or the views that some individual holds, no matter how cherished.
Becoming a fair-minded thinker involves developing critical thinking skills. The process by which evolving into a fair-minded thinker occurs is by actively learning, reading, and listening. A questioning mind and considering different points of view will ensure that the skills learned help to create a fair-minded thinker. Challenging what is a belief and what is ethical and always searching for the most informed point of view is also a skill of a fair-minded thinker.
It is quite common for people to consider the question of fairness through emotional connections to what one feels and believes. People learn to open minded and fair minded from the choices they make and the resulting actions they follow. Being open minded is important because many of our own positions on issues and beliefs on issues are not especially reasonable but, instead, influenced by opinions provided to us by others, and over time we develop an emotional attachment to them.
There is no way to eliminate completely one’s preconceived notions about fairness in making “fair-minded” decisions. Each of us brings different experiences to the table in judging what is and is not “fair.” What’s important is intellectual honesty in evaluating different points of view to serve as a check on undue influence in decision-making because of an emotional attachment or valuing the opinions of one group over another at a higher level because of personal relationships.
Here is a test to determine whether you are a fair-minded person: How would I want others to judge fairness if I was the center of the debate and if my points of view were represented by each side of the argument.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 20, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: www.workplaceethicsadvice.com.
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