Fairness in a Liberal Society

In this lecture, Richard Epstein unravels different conceptions of fairness, a term which is elusive and indefinable, yet an indispensable part of our language. Fairness is linked directly to rights, how they are acquired and then, eventually distributed. He applies the question of fairness to self-ownership and the ownership of property, the voluntary transfer of property or services between individuals and the protection of individual rights against the actions of others.

Epstein outlines opposing notions of fairness according to thinkers John Locke and John Rawls, each of whose ideas have enormous contemporary influence. Applying each one’s moral stance at an abstract level produces different implications at a practical level.

Once the expression for fairness is agreed upon, one of the greatest challenges that still remains is determining how or who handles wealth differences that occur in society. Should we rely on private voluntary compassion, forced public redistribution or a combination of both?