The Life’s not Fair Fallacy

Last night a friend of mine was recounting a story concerning, what seemed to me at least, a particularly nasty character. The story was followed by his, the character in question, justification for his behaviour:

‘Well life’s not fair either.’

Presumably the intent for such a statement is to show that, since life is generally not fair, certain unfair practices are justifiable.

Given that this statement is used relatively often as a justification for unfair practices or behaviour, when it really is nothing of the sort, seems to call for its classification as a fallacy.

The Life’s not Fair Fallacy.

The fallacy is committed when an appeal to the ‘unfairness of life’ is used as a justification for some act or practice. However, the normative status of the practice in question obviously stands irrespective of whether or not similar instances of unfairness happen in the world.

An example:

Lenny bought a car with an engine full of sawdust yesterday. He took it back to the dealer and protested that this was simply not fair. The dealer replied, “well that’s life for you”.

Note: The Life’s not fair fallacy is a variant of the two wrongs make a right fallacy, however, the former uses a fallacious appeal to common unfairness in life, the latter to another wrong action.

Although it may seem that, an appeal to the unfairness of nature, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, disease and other natural disasters can be used as a reminder that one should not protest at their car being crushed by falling trees, it must be remembered that this is because nature is not in the business of fairness. An appeal to the unfairness of nature, however, may be used in an attempt to justify some human practice or act, in which case, the fallacy is committed.


2 Responses to “The Life’s not Fair Fallacy”

  1. 1 Psychbloke June 28, 2004 at 9:45 pm


    The argument presented seems to assume two discrete states of affairs (I guess ‘nature’ and ‘society’) and then argue that it is fallacious to draw any kind of analogy between the two, but is this really what people are doing when they argue that ‘well….life’s a bitch and then you die” ?

    Are they not arguing from the particular to a wider generality – i.e. that the unfairness of a particular sawdust filled car, is hardly inconsistent with the unfairness of life in a more general sense. A ‘life’ of which the car is but one representative particular.

    Schopenhauer, in a characteristically miserable moment, argues that:

    “…the life of the individual is a constant struggle……….He discovers adversaries everywhere, lives in continual conflict and dies with sword in hand”.

    Presumably this would include conflict with car dealers.

    Are not those quoted in your thought provoking piece merely sharing in such insight into the character of existence?

    That said…we still have a problem with Hume’s fork – just ‘cos that’s the way it is, don’t mean that’s the way it oughta be…..

    Whatever….anyway, thanks, I’ve enjoyed your site.

  2. 2 Jim June 29, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    Yes I think you are right. Sometimes the life’s a bitch statement is used not as a justification for some kind of human behaviour but simply to illustrate how much of a shit life can be.
    However, the fallacy I attempted to illustrate was committed when someone employs the existence of such a state of affairs as a justification for certain types of behaviour. My fictitious car dealer, was not simply alerting the duped buyer to the general unfairness of life, but actually attempting to reach a normative conclusion by pointing this out.
    Formalised, I suppose his argument would go something like this:
    1.Certain types of state of affairs, A, are common.
    2.Any event, which is common, is all right to intentionally bring about.
    3.Therefore, my intentionally bringing about A is morally justified.
    Obviously, since (2) is false, (3) does not follow.
    From what I gathered, the protagonist from the story that aroused my attention, really was using the unfairness of life as a justification for his behaviour. In this case I think he would be committing the ‘Life’s not Fair Fallacy’.
    I think you are right in pointing out however, that often, the appeal to life’s a bitch is not being used in this way.
    Thanks for the input.

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