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The Morality of Justice, Fairness & Taxation

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  • 0:00 Fairness and Morality
  • 0:45 Justice
  • 2:35 Taxation
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, explore the connection between morality and fairness and discover how these ideas relate to our modern systems of justice and taxation. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Fairness and Morality

It has been said that everything we need to know in life we learned in kindergarten. Be nice. Be honest. Be good. As adults, we still talk about these ideas. We call the principles of right and wrong morality.

Moral systems can get pretty complex, but a lot of times, it really just comes down to those basic rules we learned in kindergarten, and one of those rules goes a long way in defining the others. Fairness, the freedom from prejudice and quality of treating people equally, is the fundamental moral behind some of our most complex and complicated laws and systems. People spend their lives debating these topics, and here we learned all we really need to know back in kindergarten.

Justice

One of the first places we can look to see how fairness influences morality is in justice, the moral application of the law. When something is just, it is, by definition, fair. Have you ever seen a statue of Lady Justice, the allegorical representation of the idea of justice? She's blindfolded - why? Because justice should be applied equally to everyone, regardless of their history, wealth, social status, or any other factor. Lady Justice is blind, meaning that the only factor in determining how the law is applied is what is fair.

This means a few things. First, like we said, it means that everyone is equal before the law, so no one is prosecuted for anything other than the crime he or she is accused of. Secondly, it means that people who do commit crimes should be punished. Fairness means that when people break the rules, the application of punishment is moral, as long as that same system of punishment applies to everyone.

Justice has been debated across dozens of cultures and across history. What exactly makes something just? In the 17th century, people argued that moral justice was defined by the mutual agreement of everyone in society. In the 19th century, others argued that something was just if it created the greatest good for the most people. Later theorists argued that justice was moral if it created a positive outcome, if it resulted in higher social equality, or if it was centered on individual rights. However, despite the centuries of theories about how the law should be morally, and therefore justly applied, it all comes back to the idea that the law must be fair.

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