Fortress Press

Learning to Be Fair: Equity from Classical Philosophy to Contemporary Politics

Learning to Be Fair

Equity from Classical Philosophy to Contemporary Politics

Charles McNamara (Author)


Available December 10, 2024

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The language of "equity" saturates our contemporary culture. Human-resources departments lead workshops on "diversity, equity, and inclusion." Progressive politicians promise "equity" in everything from housing to healthcare, while their conservative counterparts decry "equity" as a modern invention and a rejection of classical, Western culture's moral principles. Learning to Be Fair shows that nothing undermines that objection more than reading the foundational texts of Western moral philosophy.

Despite its newfound popularity (or infamy), the concept of equity is in fact one of the oldest, most durable principles of Western ethics. In Learning to Be Fair, Charles McNamara excavates the ancient origins of equity in classical Greek and Roman thought and traces their influence on lawyers, philosophers, America's Founding Fathers, and our contemporary culture. He shows how this history connects current debates about the role of equity to long-standing ethical questions about civil disobedience and the possibility of teaching people to be good.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506495095
  • eBook ISBN 9781506495101
  • Dimensions 5.75 x 8.75
  • Pages 176
  • Publication Date December 10, 2024


This marvelously balanced, penetrating, and eminently readable interdisciplinary study of "equity" deftly grapples with the historical and linguistic complexity in the use of the word, and brings much-needed light into overheated contemporary debates about how to foster equity and equality in various cultural settings. The volume would be a welcome guide and companion not just for academics and students seeking to better understand the concept, but also for administrators, policymakers and legal professionals grappling with practical questions of when and how to bend the rules and for what purpose.

Amy Uelmen, director for mission and ministry, Georgetown University Law Center, and lecturer in religion and professional life, Georgetown University

With impressive historical knowledge and moral insight, McNamara helps us move beyond the narrow confines of procedural justice to consider questions of substantive fairness. He shows us how the venerable concept of equity can provide guidance not only for today, but also for the future of our diverse and pluralistic societies.

Cathleen Kaveny, Libby Professor of Law and Theology, Boston College

With Learning to Be Fair, Charles McNamara offers timely assistance to readers at every level who are struggling to understand the roots and sources of our present-day conversations about equity in the workplace, on our campuses, and in public life. Written in an accessible way that spares no effort to explore the richness of how our civilization came to understand and value equity, McNamara's book belongs in the board room as much as the classroom. Every reader could profit from Learning to Be Fair as a guide to navigate these challenging conversations today--conversations McNamara assures us are as ancient as they are contemporary.

Steven P. Millies, professor of public theology and director of the Bernardin Center, Catholic Theological Union