Family Fairness

Edna Ullmann-Margalit

This paper is the last part of a three-part project. The larger picture is important for the proper framing of the present paper. Here then is an abstract of the three-part paper, which is about considerateness. Focusing on two extreme poles of the spectrum of human relationships, the paper argues that considerateness is the foundation upon which relationships are to be organized in both the thin anonymous context of the public space and the thick intimate context of the family. The first part of the paper introduces the notion of considerateness among strangers and explores the idea that considerateness is the minimum that we owe to one another in the public space. By acting considerately toward strangers—for example, by holding a door open so it does not slam in the face of the next person who enters—we show respect to that which we all share as people, namely, our common humanity. The second part explores the idea that considerateness is the foundation underlying the constitution of the exemplary family. I hypothesize that each family adopts its own particular distribution of domestic burdens and benefits and I refer to it as the “family deal.” The argument is that the considerate family deal embodies a notion of fairness that is a distinct, family-oriented notion of fairness. The third part of the larger paper—which is the part I present here—takes up the notion of family fairness and contrasts it with justice. In particular, I take issue with Susan Okin’s notion of the just family and develop, instead, the notion of the not-unjust fair family. Driving a wedge between justice and fairness, I propose that family fairness is partial and sympathetic rather than impartial and empathic, and that it is particular and internal rather than universalizable. Furthermore, I claim that family fairness is based on ongoing comparisons of preferences among family members. I finally characterize the good family as a not-unjust family that is considerate and fair.

August, 2006
Published in: 
Social Research 73 (2006), 575-596