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Are Human Beings Equal and In What Regards. In what regards should they be

Some inequities are due to natural endowments. Some are due to social inequities.

Few would question that we are unequal in many regards such as height, weight, athletic or military prowess, intelligence and a host of other variables.

Aristotle perceived the human race as a natural hierarchy and believed that intelligence should determine rank.

Some believe that inequality is desirable and there should exist a hierarchy of recognition. Some including Plato believed that the hierarchy should be determined by their relationship with a sacred and transcendent reality, with the Good or with God. Plato believed that a few stood above all others in their capacity for philosophical understandings and that these "Philosopher Kings" should stand at the top of the hierarchy

Others believe superiority is purely worldly such as possessing political genius, artistic mastery or athletic or military prowess. Nietzsche believed in "the will to power and that being is power, and power is mastery over all things, around us, above us and over our own selves.

The philosophical defence of equality appears to have first come from the Stoics. The Stoics held the human beings to be equal in that every human could understand the demands of the moral law implicit in the divine harmony of the universe and were equal in the relationship with the divine. This view was also adopted by Christians. John Locke in England accepted this notion and Thomas Jefferson asserted that Human beings were created equal and were endowed by their creator with inalienable rights.

Immanuel Kant believed that all human beings should be treated equally by virtue of them all being rational beings with reason being seen as a moral rather than a practical faculty.

Peter Singer beleived that human and animals beings should be treated equally because they are sentient animals - they can feel pain.

Research of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett reported in Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies are Almost Do Better indicate that on evidence from physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage births, child well-being, rich and poor countries, global warming more equal income countries do better than unequal countries.

Prescriptive Not Descriptive

Some take it that the idea of equality is descriptive rather than prescriptive.

The principle of the equality is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans: it is a prescription of how we should treat humans beings.(Singer 2002, page 5)
Like it or not we must face the fact that humans come in different shapes and sizes; they come with different moral capacities, different intellectual abilities, different amounts of benevolent feelings and sensitivity to the needs of others, different abilities to communicate effectively, and different capacities to experience pleasure and pain, In short, if the demand for equality were based on the actual equality of all human beings, we would have to stop demanding equality( Singer 2002, Page 3)

Equality is a moral idea, not an assertion of fact. There is no logically compelling reason for assuming that a factual difference in ability between two people justify any difference in the amount of consideration we give to their needs and interests.(Singer Page 4,5)

Libertarian concept of equality

Boaz (1997, Page 63) identifies different targets or concepts of equality:

1. A right to equality before the law.
2. A right to equality of results or outcomes
3. A right to equality of opportunity, meaning an equal opportunity to succeed in life.

Boaz argues, "The kind of equality suitable for a free society is equal rights. He suggests that the right to life liberty and pursuit of happiness is ambiguous and perhaps a more accurate way of describing what original drafter of the phrase meant might be found in the phrase "right to self-ownership". He rejects the notion that the right to life should not extend to "a fundamental right to the necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, medical care, maybe even an eight hour day and two weeks of vacation. His argument does not appear to bare much substance. He begins by suggesting that if some one has a right to something then some one or some group has a duty to provide it. He then goes on to suggest the appropriateness of the framework called ethical universalism i.e. that to be valid an ethical theory must be applicable to all whenever, where ever. If you can't provide food to everyone in the world, then "It is logically impossible to make such desirable things "universal human rights". This statement might be regarded as an example of the natural fallacy i.e. you can not imply "ought" or desirability from what "is" . One might question whether it is or is not possible to feed everyone in the world. In any event, it certainly is possible to feed everyone in Canada and United States. Hence it is logically possible to place a duty to provide food on an individual or group or the state. In Canada, persons in locus parentis (in the relationship of parent or analogous to it) have the legal duty to provide the necessities of life such as food to the persons with whom they are in locus parentis.

Different targets of equality

A more elaborate listing of different concepts of equality is set out in the following table.

Lakeoff Taxonomy
Types of Equity Specific Examples
Equity of Distribution Every person gets one
Equity of opportunity Everyone is eligible to apply for the job
Procedural distribution Benefits are established by the rules of the game
Right-based equity You get what you are entitled to
Needs-based equity Those who need more get more
Scaler distribution Those work harder get more
Contractual distribution You give based on what you promised
Equal distribution of responsibility Effort is equitably shared
Scalar distribution of responsibility Those who can do more have greater responsibility
Equal distribution of power Everyone can vote


The basic principle of equality does not require equal or identical treatment; it requires equal consideration. Equal consideration for different beings may lead to different treatment and different rights. (Singer, Page 2)

The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better For Everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Authors report on years of research that they conclude that equality is more than a moral imperative: It makes sense in that almost everyone is better of with less inequality.

Plutocrats, The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, by Chrystia Freeland,2012



Download Armine Yalnizyan Economics, Equality and Democracy from Itunes from TVO Ontario, Big Ideas

Richard Wilkinson How Economic Inequality harms nations


Frank, Robert H Falling Behind, How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class

Freeland, Chrystia (2012) Plutocrats, The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, Toronto: Anchor Canada

Stiglitz, Joseph E (2012) The Price of Inequality, How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future

Wilkinson, Richard and Kate Pickett (2009) Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, London: Penguin Books


Richard Wilkinson on The Age of Unequals - TVO On December 1st the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Ottawa released a report on the improving fortunes of the rich in Canada: The Rise of Canada's 1%

Ontario's Poverty Reduction Plan may be found at Breaking the Cycle

Canada House of Commons: Federal Poverty Reduction Plan, Report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities http://www2.parl.gc.ca/Content/HOC/Committee/403/HUMA/Reports/ RP4770921/403_HUMA_Rpt07_PDF/403_HUMA_Rpt07-e.pdf December 2009

Canada Senate: In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness, The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology , Report of the Subcommittee on Cities http://www.parl.gc.ca/40/2/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/citi-e/rep-e/rep02dec09-e.pdf December 2009

Equity Trust: www.equitytrust.org

Justice Questions retson.ca/justicequestions.html

retson.ca/equality.html - James Retson's Site on Equality

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett Time 11/2 hr.