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The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice Hardcover – April 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“Peter Corning paints a compelling picture of the excessive inequalities of income, wealth, and power in American society, and the damage they cause. More importantly, he makes a strong case for fairness—arguing that equality, equity, and reciprocity are central to humanity's social needs and collective flourishing.”

(Kate Pickett, coauthor of The Spirit Level: How Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger)

“Once again Peter Corning has produced a book that is engaging as well as intellectually solid. Corning's integration of the topics of human nature and social justice could not be more timely. The Fair Society is a must read for anyone interested in a science-based approach to fairness and sustainability.”

(John M. Gowdy, author of Microeconomics Old and New)

"Thoughtful, provocative. . . . Strongly grounded in evolutionary theory but scornful of the 'selfish gene' hypothesis that says we are solely driven by individual self-interest. . . . Serves as a highly effective counterweight to both leftist dogma and the Ayn Rand doctrine that has recently infested conservative thought."


"Much of what Corning has written is both important and accurate. . . . It is an edifying book. . . . I admire Corning's attempt to develop a normative theory of justice that is 'built on an empirical foundation.' . . . One hopes that those who wish to occupy places of power on behalf of the 99 percent will heed Corning's sage advice about what to do and--just as important--what not to do in planning for a better, more just society."

(John T. Jost American Scientist)

About the Author

Peter Corning is the director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems, a one-time writer for Newsweek and professor at Stanford University, and the author of several books.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (April 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226116271
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226116273
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,320,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Colin S. Megill on May 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a powerful book. It answers the critical and timely question: what should replace the shambles of pure socialism and unfettered free market capitalism? So many books that fall into the same category are utopian and myopic rather than grounded/policy driven and thus fall short on many counts. The Fair Society was obviously instructed by robust thinking on many aspects of human society and does not strive to attain some fixed and abstract ideal. Instead, Corning's ideal of fairness aims to mitigate the mundane suffering of the masses through social justice (rather than 'liberate' them). It focuses on improving what he calls the "collective survival enterprise," a kind of "we're all in this together" view of human society grounded in basic needs such as food and shelter. I agree this view is a more accurate reflection of the realities of highly interdependent post-modern societies than the "stay off my lawn" worldview of libertarianism, a favorite target throughout the book.

The thing that impressed me most about the book, aside from the prolific citations and references, was Corning's thorough contemplation and rejection of both idealized capitalism and socialism: "Neither the rational, calculating, egoistic Homo economics nor the cooperative, caring, altruistic 'socialist man' can encompass the dualities and the diversity of human-kind. All the evidence suggests that a more nuanced and complex view of human nature is essential" (143). While the book treads ancient paths by looking for a political and economic philosophy to manage increasingly large and complex human communities by looking towards human nature, it treads new ground by rejecting this dichotomy (and thus the tired conclusions engendered by it).
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a spectacular book, but the best aspect of this book is that Professor Corning begins his argument at exactly the right place: "We have been witnessing the emergence of a full-blown "science of human nature," a diverse effort involving many disciplines, including evolutionary biology, neurobiology, behavioral genetics, human ethology, several branches of psychology, anthropology, economics, sociology, political science, and even the study of animal behavior. This broad, multidisciplinary effort is providing us with new insights and new perspectives on some ancient questions, and (I will argue) definitive resolutions to some long-standing philosophical and ideological debates. In a nutshell, we are beginning to get a fix on the deep structure of human nature." Indeed, Corning goes on to call this new social contract a "biosocial contract" and, as he states, "To summarize this new vision very briefly, the ground-zero premise (so to speak) of the biological sciences is that survival and reproduction constitute the basic, continuing, inescapable problem for all living organisms: life is at bottom a "survival enterprise." (Darwin characterized it as the "struggle for existence.") Furthermore, the problem of survival and reproduction is multifaceted and relentless; it is a problem that can never be permanently solved. Thus an organized, interdependent society is quintessentially a "collective survival enterprise." To borrow a term from sociobiology, it's a "superorganism." This taproot assumption about the human condition is hardly news, but we very often deny it, or downgrade it, or simply lose touch with it."

Despite coming in at just under two-hundred pages, Professor Corning's book reads like a veritable who's who of the scientific and economic community.
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29 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Hiroo Yamagata on August 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a VERY dissapointing book. The author makes a series of extremely basic mistakes in his understanding of economics and Darwinian evolution. He makes the classic naturalistic fallacy (I think that's the word; sorry, my English is sometimes a bit shaky). He has no consideration for emergent charcteristics. As a result, the analysis is bland. Because of his weak logic, he has to rely on "Big shots said so" quotes, which makes the book boring. And the reccomendation is truely childish.

FYI, I answered "No" to most of the questions at the end of Chapter 2. According to the author, this should mean that I have a quite accute sense of fairness, and that I should agree to everything the author says. Too bad, I didn't.

The author starts with the argument that the world today is too unfair and unequal. This is true. Although he adds nothing new to the argument, his points are valid. And he says that we should go for a more fair and equal society. Great. His points are well taken.

But after that, his arguments become completely unconvincing.

His first argument is that people are naturally hard-wired to favor fairness and equality. So, he says that we should go for a fairer society.

But this is a classic example of naturalistic fallacy. Just because people have a natural tendency to do something doesn't make it right, or desirable. Also, it begs the question; if people like equality and fairness so much, why isn't the world already so?

His answers are murky. He says that in order to survive, people had to be selfish at times. Oh. so I guess the fairness instinct isn't too strong after all.

He quotes game theory, like the ultimatum game, to show that poeple naturally LIKES cooperation and reciprocity.
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