Why People Believe the World is Fair

This site is very much dedicated to how the just world fallacy appears in our politics, in society and in our day to day lives. But what hasn’t gotten enough attention is why human beings believe the world is fair.



All human civilizations have religions and one of the commonalities throughout the world religions is the idea that we get what we deserve. Usually, we get what we deserve in the afterlife (or in a new life) and we would assume that this would mean that believers would then conclude that the world around us is not necessarily a reflection of the just universe where we are rewarded after death. However, it seems as though we can’t help ourselves – though the religion may officially support the view that the world is fair only in death believers and even clerics often believe that the world is fair here and now (or that the world being fair in death justifies trying to make the world fair now).



Because the belief in a fair universe is so common, we must wonder if it has something to do with our biology. Was there some kind of evolutionary advantage in believing in just rewards? The answer seems obvious, even if I don’t have any evidence to back it up: believing in future rewards for right and proper actions for ones community, and believing in future punishments for actions detrimental to the community, would have given those people huge advantages in the struggle to survive. If I didn’t care whether or not what I was “right” in the context of my family and my tribe, why would I do anything for them?


Here are some potentially relevant articles:

  • http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/papers/2012_PetersenEtal_PunishOrRepair.pdf
  • http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07418820000094781