By Nicholas Rescher
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Extra info for Fairness: Theory & Practice of Distributive Justice
A division is insufficient when the total it shares out is unable to meet 28 Fairness the relevant claims—for example, when someone dies with debts to the tune of $1,000 but an estate of only $500. On the other hand, a division is unfair if it treats some claims in a manner disproportionate to the treatment of others. Fairness is thus a matter not of how claimants are treated purely and simply, but of how they are treated in comparison to one another. Fair distributions must therefore be handled holistically, subjecting specific circumstances to general principles.
And failing that, it may allow of plausible timesharing like a vacation cabin or a portrait of the family patriarch and unlike a plane ticket or an aristocratic title. If all of these fail and we have a good that is indivisible, unpartitionable, and unshareable, then such a good may be characterized as atomic, it is something that cannot be divided up in any way, manner, or shape. Often, goods that are not actually atomic are treated as such for practical purposes because the parties involved are simply not prepared either to partition or to share them.
There is no “fair division” problem here. The essence of fairness was already settled in advance by the presupposition that the two rivals have equal claims, and whatever “fair division problem” there is here is settled by the ruling that the cake “should be divided equally” between the two (equal) claimants. The only “problem” that remains is the practical one of producing two equal pieces. And this is not an issue of fairness but merely one of partitioning—of finding a means that people are prepared to acknowledge as a practicable procedure for producing an appropriately equal partitioning of something.