Contra Private Fairness

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This article attempts to clarify our understanding of the everyday use of the word “fair” as we apply it to economic behavior. I first examine the decomposition of fair into its semantic primitives and discuss implications of recent research that indicates that the word is one-to-one untranslatable into any other language, that is, the concept of fair is distinctly Anglo. I also make a Wittgensteinian appeal to context and human sociality as an indispensable tether for what we mean by a fair experience and what we know, epistemologically speaking, about fairness. The principal implication of this is that rules that guide fair behavior are not located in an individual's private utility function but instead reside in the connections that the individual has to his cultural environs.


This article was originally published in American Journal of Economics and Sociology, volume 71, issue 2, in 2012.

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