Alex Dunedin

We live with the problem of understanding what a fair and equitable society means. There are many different conventions and views which might lend description to the idea of a fair society. In this small article I want to provide a composite sketch of robust thinkers who have informed my thoughts on what makes a fair and equitable society. I offer the following by way of a crash course into my way of trying to develop a practical and pragmatic way to realising the fair society which I should like to witness. Famously John Rawls talks about Justice as Fairness, in his book ‘A Theory of Justice’, where he develops the philosophy of a society of free citizens that holds equal basic rights cooperating within an egalitarian economic system. Amartya Sen critiqued and carried forward Rawls’ fundamental theoretical concepts in his book ‘The Idea of Justice’. Amartya Sen developed the Human Capabilities approach through work with and for the United Nations. In Sen’s book ‘Freedom as Development’ he describes a new way of measuring poverty in terms of the opportunities available to people, rather than measures such as Gross Domestic Product – a very problematic and reductive lens. These thinkers helped me think through the complexities of a free society in which we can have the opportunities to reach our full potentials; also they helped me develop an understanding of the interrelatedness of freedoms and their positive effects. Political freedoms in the form of free speech and elections help to promote economic security; social opportunities in the form of education and health facilities facilitate economic participation; economic facilities in the form of opportunities for participation in trade and production can help to generate personal abundance as well as public resources for social facilities. Freedoms of different kinds strengthen each other. Adding to this scheme of thinkers is Hernando De Soto Polar, who proposes in his book, The Mystery of Capital, that people need to be (and feel) represented by the legal system. Property rights are the foundation of stable growing economies as well as human rights and dignities. Martha Nussbaum writes about dignities in her book ‘Creating Capabilities’ not as a luxury but as a fundamental. Being represented by the law is a dignity which is dangerously isolated from many people at the lower socio-economic spectrum of society, and this causes great problems. For me what makes a fair society is a careful balance and ecology of freedom, opportunity, and access to and representation by common law. Education and knowledge are vehicles to the promotion of a fair society along with other institutions which should be reflective of the needs, not just of human beings, but that of the wider biosphere. A fair society looks after those without agency and voice – such as the bee population which is being destroyed by the use of chemical pesticides of multinational companies. A fair society understands that it is the Gestalt effect which comes of the collection of diversity that yields the greatest fruits (and futures) for all concerned, and so preserves the institutions that enable participation in that society by each constituent. The above thinkers which I have presented to you I recommend to everyone as reading matter. It is never, in my opinion, one voice which has the answers – but a collection which mingle to arrive at solutions.

Alex Dunedin, Director Ragged University

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