Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fairness and froggish men

posted by Brit

Yesterday's post on sociobiology raised the question of fairness. According to the philosopher Raymond Geuss in a recent edition of Start the Week, the concept of 'fairness' has peculiarly English origins. Indeed, other languages such as German take their word for 'fairness' straight from the English, there being no direct linguistic equivalent.*

Interesing one, fairness. It's a sort of appeal to a natural justice (rather than a human or even Divine judgement or application of law) with hints of 'playing the game' and a hope of reasonableness and an even distribution of luck over the long run.

With its avoidance of absolutes it's a fundamentally conservative concept. And yet paradoxically, as Randy Newman here explains, the fact that life isn't fair (along with the existence of froggish men with beautiful wives) explains the failure of Marxism in the 20th Century.

*This puts me in mind of one of my favourite Bushisms: "The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur." Pity it's a hoax.


  1. I guess fairness at its best is the English way of saying "we're all in this together". So my satisfaction isn't fair if it comes to too high a cost to you, because we are all in the same gang. Try saying that to Bunter, though, and alas there are plenty of Bunters around stuffing themselves with the contents of your larder.

    Perhaps the flipside of fairness, to the English, is not unfair but being a cad, a rotter and a bounder. Selfish in one thing means unreliable in everything else. As so many husbands discovered when they foolishly allowed Flashman to befriend them!

  2. I'll bite. What is the French word for entrepreneur?

  3. Yer actual Germans don't have a direct equivalent for the word sorry, my daughter in law, who taught English in Germany always had a chuckle with that one, they do say they are sorry, but with a perplexed expression, "sorry about your lousy government / welfare state / education system / manufacturing base / the size of your debt / football team" etc.
    I don't give a toss what anyone else thinks, the words fairness and fair play are exactly right.

    That ugly little scroat Ecclestone must need the aid of a biscuit tin for knee trembler's, you don't suppose she married him for his money, do you? what on earth makes you think that?

  4. I've used 'es tut mir leid' thinking it meant sorry, but it means, 'I offer sorrow' or similar, doesn't it Malty?

    Problem with the Germans is they have no sense of humour. Did you know, David, that they have no word for schadenfreude?

  5. Yes Brit, as in "Mien Gott, I've just dropped a bomb on your granny, es tut mir leid"
    They have panzerkampfwagens full of words for 1966.

    Just finished watching series three of The Wire, drat that Appleyard, we now have to fork out another forty quid for the rest.

  6. So no one here knows, either? I guess Hoax!Bush is smarter than we thought.

    Brit: The German word for schadenfreude is Schadenfreude.

  7. David

    I can't believe I'm actually doing this, but the French word for entrepreneur is entrepreneur.

    (Stands back and waits for the massed ranks to berate him for not recognising irony when it's slapped across his face)

  8. Actually, I believe that the French word entrepreneur means undertaker, or garbage hauler, or some such.

    The French have borrowed the English word entrepreneur to mean, ur, entrepreneur, but do they have their own word? Not that I know of.

  9. If what you say is true, David, that means that the English (speakers) had to borrow a French word, and the French had to borrow it back, which means...that nobody has a word for entrepreneur.