, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 313-320
Date: 21 Dec 2011

Peter Corning: The Fair Society: The science of human nature and the pursuit of social justice

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Peter Corning’s new book The Fair Society has an ambitious aim, namely to defend a new set of social arrangements by appealing to facts about human nature. The book is clear, very well-written, and packed with interesting science about human behaviour and human evolutionary history. Corning’s conclusion is that we must forge a new social contract. ‘Our primary social (and moral) obligation’, he says, ‘is to provide for all the basic needs of our citizens’ (p. xiii).

Chapters 1–3 survey the fact of unfairness in modern capitalist society (although the examples are mostly about the United States), the concept of fairness, and the commitment to a principle of fairness that shows up in almost any human society across our evolutionary history. Chapter 4 contains a fantastic survey of the literatures that can tell us something about human nature, including animal behaviour, anthropology, behavioural genetics, the brain sciences, evolutionary psychology, and experimental and behavioural econom ...