Fairness in Love And War

The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.  John Lyly, Euphues, 1578.

All’s fair in love and war, we hear at a tender age.  Though this is tempered by schoolboy concepts of fair play and never hit a man when he’s down.  Fair play is reasonable if you don’t mean to win at any cost and the other guy doesn’t mean to kill you, but all that goes by the board in any genuine confrontation. more

Does ethics describe key ultimate wants, or only minor wants, and social norms and signals which instrumentally help us achieve key wants?  Consider the saying “All is fair in love and war.”  It is often quoted, and rarely does a listener respond “Not it’s not.”  Yet folks also often complain loudly about unfairness.  Taken together, these suggest that for most, fairness is largely instrumental.

Those who embrace this saying suggest that a threat of military defeat, and perhaps extermination, would overwhelm most other considerations.  Similarly, they suggest that the threat of not attracting a hoped-for mate also overwhelms most other considerations.

Setting love alongside war as a similar reason to ignore fairness is quite telling.  Wars have often ended extremely, with total victory or total defeat.  But if you don’t attract a particular desired lover, you might well attract a lover nearly as good.  Those who equate the harm of getting their second favorite mate, vs. their favorite mate, with the harm of losing vs. winning a war, seem to say that mate quality is overwhelming important.  Little matters nearly as much – certainly not fairness (or racism).

Added 11Aug2010: This page has been translated into Belorussian.

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