Conventional wisdom has it that moral viewpoints differ widely from place to place, time to time, and person to person. It is certainly true that what are taken to be moral claims often differ. But this is not to say that morality does not have certain defining characteristics which would be recognized and acknowledged across cultural and historical periods. In this chapter I am going to argue that there are five such defining characteristics, and I suggest that, while philosophers as different as, say, Plato, Kant, Hume, Mill, Moore, Ewing, or Blackburn may subscribe to distinctive moral theories which involve a considerable degree of specific disagreement, they and most other philosophers throughout history would nonetheless agree that these five characteristics represent fundamental moral principles. The principles also seem to resonate or fit with what most ordinary people feel about morality, although most ordinary people don’t articulate their reasoning in this way and other philosophers would perhaps not use the same language or express the argument in the way that I do. (I also believe that the principles presented here, although there is no denying that they are argued for and expressed in a manner that belongs to a Western tradition of philosophical thought, represent values that are shared by other major traditions such as Confucianism and Buddhism. But I will not pursue that line of thought here.)

The first principle is that of fairness. Who, whatever his or her specific moral values and general viewpoint, could deny that morality is by its very nature, among other things, about fairness? One cannot conceive of somebody arguing that being fair is not a moral consideration. There are of course people who are not fair or do not act fairly, and perhaps even some who claim that they see no good reason to be fair. Sometimes an individual may attempt to justify acting unfairly in a particular situation. But none of that makes any difference to the point at issue here. Certainly there can be situations in which it is justifiable to act in a way that is in some sense unfair: as we have seen, in life we sometimes face dilemmas and have no choice but to commit what we call ‘the lesser of two evils’. As any parent knows, one sometimes

has good reason to treat one’s children in ways that are not strictly fair. More broadly, many would argue, for example, that while various features of our taxation system are to some degree unfair, they are nonetheless morally defensible. So most of us are familiar with and even ready to condone unfairness on occasion. But that does not mean that we cannot see that fairness is a moral consideration. Similarly, the fact that some people act unfairly or claim not be bothered about fairness in itself tells us only that some people are not very concerned about being moral. What nobody could coherently say and, as far I know, nobody has ever tried to say, is ‘I care greatly about being moral, but I see no reason to try and be fair.’