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Equality of outcome can be achieved by making sure that everyone is supported to have access to resources and decision making and to be recognised, valued.
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The role and correct account of equality, understood as an issue of social justice, is itself a difficult philosophical issue. To clarify this, philosophers have defended a variety of principles and conceptions of equality, many of which are mentioned in the following discussion. This section introduces four well known principles of equality, ranging from highly general and uncontroversial to more specific and controversial. Different interpretations of the role of equality in a theory of justice emerge according to which of the four following principles and which measure has been adopted.

Through its connection with justice, equality, like justice itself, has different justitianda , i. These are mainly actions, persons, social institutions, and circumstances e. These objects of justice stand in an internal connection and order that can here only be hinted at. Justice is hence primarily related to individual actions. Individual persons are the primary bearer of responsibilities ethical individualism. Persons have to take responsibility for their individual actions and for circumstances they could change through such actions or omissions.

Although people have responsibility for both their actions and circumstances, there is a moral difference between the two justitianda , i. The responsibility people have to treat individuals and groups they affect in a morally appropriate and, in particular, even-handed way has hence a certain priority over their moral duty to turn circumstances into just ones through some kind of equalization. Establishing justice of circumstances ubiquitously and simultaneously is beyond any given individual's capacities.

Hence one has to rely on collective actions. In order to meet this moral duty, a basic order guaranteeing just circumstances must be justly created. This is an essential argument of justice in favor of establishing social institutions and fundamental state structures for political communities; with the help of such institutions and structures, individuals can collectively fulfill their responsibility in the best possible manner.

If circumstances can be rightly judged to be unjust, all persons have the responsibility and moral duty, both individually and collectively, to change the pertinent circumstances or distributive schemes into just ones. In the following sections, the objects of equality may vary from topic to topic. However, as indicated, there is a close relationship between the objects. The next three principles of equality hold generally and primarily for all actions and treatment of others and for resulting circumstances.

From the fourth principle onward, i. When two persons have equal status in at least one normatively relevant respect, they must be treated equally with regard to this respect. This is the generally accepted formal equality principle that Aristotle formulated in reference to Plato: Of course the crucial question is which respects are normatively relevant and which are not.

Some authors see this formal principle of equality as a specific application of a rule of rationality: But most authors instead stress that what is here at stake is a moral principle of justice, basically corresponding with acknowledgment of the impartial and universalizable nature of moral judgments. Namely, the postulate of formal equality demands more than consistency with one's subjective preferences.

According to Aristotle, there are two kinds of equality, numerical and proportional Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics , bb; cf. Plato, Laws , VI. A form of treatment of others or as a result of it a distribution is equal numerically when it treats all persons as indistinguishable, thus treating them identically or granting them the same quantity of a good per capita.

That is not always just. In contrast, a form of treatment of others or distribution is proportional or relatively equal when it treats all relevant persons in relation to their due. Just numerical equality is a special case of proportional equality. Numerical equality is only just under special circumstances, viz. Proportional equality further specifies formal equality; it is the more precise and detailed, hence actually the more comprehensive formulation of formal equality.

It indicates what produces an adequate equality. Proportional equality in the treatment and distribution of goods to persons involves at least the following concepts or variables: Two or more persons P 1 , P 2 and two or more allocations of goods to persons G and X and Y as the quantity in which individuals have the relevant normative quality E. This can be represented as an equation with fractions or as a ratio.

For the formula to be usable, the potentially great variety of factors involved have to be both quantifiable in principle and commensurable, i. When factors speak for unequal treatment or distribution, because the persons are unequal in relevant respects, the treatment or distribution proportional to these factors is just. Unequal claims to treatment or distribution must be considered proportionally: This principle can also be incorporated into hierarchical, inegalitarian theories. It indicates that equal output is demanded with equal input. Aristocrats, perfectionists, and meritocrats all believe that persons should be assessed according to their differing deserts, understood by them in the broad sense of fulfillment of some relevant criterion.

And they believe that reward and punishment, benefits and burdens, should be proportional to such deserts. Since this definition leaves open who is due what, there can be great inequality when it comes to presumed fundamental natural rights, deserts, and worth — and such inequality is apparent in both Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle's idea of justice as proportional equality contains a fundamental insight. The idea offers a framework for a rational argument between egalitarian and non-egalitarian ideas of justice, its focal point being the question of the basis for an adequate equality Hinsch Both sides accept justice as proportional equality.

Aristotle's analysis makes clear that the argument involves the features deciding whether two persons are to be considered equal or unequal in a distributive context.

What is equality?

On the formal level of pure conceptual explication, justice and equality are linked through these principles of formal and proportional justice. Justice cannot be explained without these equality principles; the equality principles only receive their normative significance in their role as principles of justice. Formal and proportional equality is simply a conceptual schema.

It needs to be made precise — i. The formal postulate remains quite empty as long as it remains unclear when or through what features two or more persons or cases should be considered equal. All debates over the proper conception of justice, i. For this reason equality theorists are correct in stressing that the claim that persons are owed equality becomes informative only when one is told — what kind of equality they are owed Nagel ; Rae ; Sen , p.

Actually, every normative theory implies a certain notion of equality. In order to outline their position, egalitarians must thus take account of a specific egalitarian conception of equality. To do so, they need to identify substantive principles of equality, discussed below. Until the eighteenth century, it was assumed that human beings are unequal by nature — i. This postulate collapsed with the advent of the idea of natural right and its assumption of an equality of natural order among all human beings.

Against Plato and Aristotle, the classical formula for justice according to which an action is just when it offers each individual his or her due took on a substantively egalitarian meaning in the course of time, viz. This is now the widely held conception of substantive, universal, moral equality.

It developed among the Stoics, who emphasized the natural equality of all rational beings, and in early New Testament Christianity, which elevated the equality of human beings before God to a principle: This important idea was also taken up both in the Talmud and in Islam, where it was grounded in both Greek and Hebraic elements in both systems. In the modern period, starting in the seventeenth century, the dominant idea was of natural equality in the tradition of natural law and social contract theory.

Hobbes postulated that in their natural condition, individuals possess equal rights, because over time they have the same capacity to do each other harm.


Locke argued that all human beings have the same natural right to both self- ownership and freedom. Rousseau declared social inequality to be a virtually primeval decline of the human race from natural equality in a harmonious state of nature: For Rousseau , , the resulting inequality and rule of violence can only be overcome by tying unfettered subjectivity to a common civil existence and popular sovereignty. In Kant's moral philosophy , the categorical imperative formulates the equality postulate of universal human worth. His transcendental and philosophical reflections on autonomy and self-legislation lead to a recognition of the same freedom for all rational beings as the sole principle of human rights Kant , p.

Such Enlightenment ideas stimulated the great modern social movements and revolutions, and were taken up in modern constitutions and declarations of human rights. The principle of equal dignity and respect is now accepted as a minimum standard throughout mainstream Western culture.

Equality | Definition of Equality by Merriam-Webster

Some misunderstandings regarding moral equality need to be clarified. To say that men are equal is not to say they are identical. Fundamental equality means that persons are alike in important relevant and specified respects alone, and not that they are all generally the same or can be treated in the same way Nagel In a now commonly posed distinction, stemming from Dworkin , p.

This fundamental idea of equal respect for all persons and of the equal worth or equal dignity of all human beings Vlastos is accepted as a minimal standard by all leading schools of modern Western political and moral culture. Any political theory abandoning this notion of equality will not be found plausible today. In a period in which metaphysical, religious and traditional views have lost their general plausibility Habermas , p.

To recognize that human beings are all equally individual does not mean having to treat them uniformly in any respects other than those in which they clearly have a moral claim to be treated alike. Disputes arise, of course, concerning what these claims amount to and how they should be resolved. That is the crux of the problem to which I now turn. The principle of moral equality is too abstract and needs to be made concrete if we are to arrive at a clear moral standard.

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Nevertheless, no conception of just equality can be deduced from the notion of moral equality. Rather, we find competing philosophical conceptions of equal treatment serving as interpretations of moral equality.

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  • These need to be assessed according to their degree of fidelity to the deeper ideal of moral equality Kymlicka , p. With this we finally switch the object of equality from treatment to the fair distribution of goods and ills or bads. Many conceptions of equality operate along procedural lines involving a presumption of equality. While more materially concrete, ethical approaches, as described in the next section below, are concerned with distributive criteria; the presumption of equality, in contrast, is a formal, procedural principle of construction located on a higher formal and argumentative level.

    What is here at stake is the question of the principle with which a material conception of justice should be constructed — particularly once the above-described approaches turn out inadequate. The presumption of equality is a prima facie principle of equal distribution for all goods politically suited for the process of public distribution. In the domain of political justice, all members of a given community, taken together as a collective body, have to decide centrally on the fair distribution of social goods, as well as on the distribution's fair realization.

    Any claim to a particular distribution, including any existing distributive scheme, has to be impartially justified, i. Applied to this political domain, the presumption of equality requires that everyone, regardless of differences, should get an equal share in the distribution unless certain types of differences are relevant and justify, through universally acceptable reasons, unequal distribution.

    Tugendhat , ; , chap. This presumption results in a principle of prima facie equal distribution for all distributable goods. A strict principle of equal distribution is not required, but it is morally necessary to justify impartially any unequal distribution. The burden of proof lies on the side of those who favor any form of unequal distribution.

    The presumption in favor of equality can be justified by the principle of equal respect together with the requirement of universal and reciprocal justification; that requirement is linked to the morality of equal respect granting each individual equal consideration in every justification and distribution. Every sort of public, political distribution is, in this view, to be justified to all relevantly concerned persons, such that they could in principle agree. Since it is immoral to force someone to do something of which he or she does not approve, only reasons acceptable to the other person can give one the moral right to treat the person in accordance with these reasons.

    The impartial justification of norms rests on the reciprocity and universality of the reasons. Universal norms and rights enforced through inner or external sanctions are morally justified only if, on the one hand, they can be reciprocally justified, i. In the end, only the concerned parties can themselves formulate and advocate their true interests. Equal respect, which we reciprocally owe to one another, thus requires respect for the autonomous decisions of each non-interchangeable individual Wingert , p. This procedural approach to moral legitimation sees the autonomy of the individual as the standard of justification for universal rules, norms, rights etc.

    Only those rules can be considered legitimate to which all concerned parties can freely agree on the basis of universal, discursively applicable, commonly shared reasons. Equal consideration is thus accorded to all persons and their interests. In a public distribution anyone who claims more owes all others an adequate universal and reciprocal justification.

    If this cannot be provided, i.

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    How could it be otherwise? Any unequal distribution would mean that someone receives less, and another more. Whoever receives less can justifiably demand a reason for he or she being disadvantaged. Yet there is ex hyphothesi no such justification. Hence, any unequal distribution is illegitimate in this case. If no convincing reasons for unequal distribution can be brought forward, there remains only the option of equal distribution.

    Equal distribution is therefore not merely one among many alternatives, but rather the inevitable starting point that must be assumed insofar as one takes the justificatory claims of all to be of equal weight. The presumption of equality provides an elegant procedure for constructing a theory of distributive justice. The following questions would have to be answered in order to arrive at a substantial and full principle of justice. What goods and burdens are to be justly distributed or should be distributed? There are various opinions as to which social goods comprise the object of distributive justice.

    Does distributive justice apply only to those goods commonly produced, i. At present, the former approach is most apparent in Rawls and many of his adherents and critics follow Rawls in this respect. In the domain of public political distribution, the goods and burdens to be distributed may be divided into various categories. Such a division is essential because reasons that speak for unequal treatment in one area do not justify unequal treatment in another.

    What are the spheres of justice into which these resources have to be grouped? In order to reconstruct our understanding of contemporary liberal, democratic welfare states, four categories seem essential: Despite views to the contrary, liberties and opportunities are seen in this view as objects of distribution. For all four categories, the presumption of equality is the guiding principle. The results of applying the presumption to each category can then be codified as rights. After dividing social goods into categories, we must next ask what can justify unequal treatment or unequal distribution in each category.

    Today the following postulates of equality are generally considered morally required. Strict equality is called for in the legal sphere of civil freedoms, since — putting aside limitation on freedom as punishment — there is no justification for any exceptions. As follows from the principle of formal equality, all citizens of a society must have equal general rights and duties. These rights and duties have to be grounded in general laws applying to everyone. This is the postulate of legal equality. In addition, the postulate of equal freedom is equally valid: In the political sphere, the possibilities for political participation should be equally distributed.

    All citizens have the same claim to participation in forming public opinion, and in the distribution, control, and exercise of political power. This is the postulate — requiring equal opportunity — of equal political power sharing. To ensure equal opportunity, social institutions have to be designed in such a way that persons who are disadvantaged, e. In the social sphere, social positions, equally gifted and motivated citizens must have approximately the same chances at offices and positions, independent of their economic or social class and native endowments.

    This is the postulate of fair equality of social opportunity. An unequal outcome has to result from equality of chances at a position, i. Since the nineteenth century, the political debate has increasingly centered on the question of economic and social inequality this running alongside the question of — gradually achieved — equal rights to freedom and political participation Marshall The main controversy here is whether, and if so to what extent, the state should establish far-reaching equality of social conditions for all through political measures such as redistribution of income and property, tax reform, a more equal educational system, social insurance, and positive discrimination.

    The equality required in the economic sphere is complex, taking account of several positions that — each according to the presumption of equality — justify a turn away from equality. A salient problem here is what constitutes justified exceptions to equal distribution of goods — the main subfield in the debate over adequate conceptions of distributive equality and its currency. The following sorts of factors are usually considered eligible for justified unequal treatment: These factors play an essential, albeit varied, role in the following alternative egalitarian theories of distributive justice.

    The following theories offer different accounts of what should be equalized in the economic sphere. Most can be understood as applications of the presumption of equality whether they explicitly acknowledge it or not ; only a few like strict equality, libertarianism, and sufficiency are alternatives to the presumption.

    Every effort to interpret the concept of equality and to apply the principles of equality mentioned above demands a precise measure of the parameters of equality. We need to know the dimensions within which the striving for equality is morally relevant.

    What follows is a brief review of the seven most prominent conceptions of distributive equality, each offering a different answer to one question: Hence with the possible exception of Barbeuf , no prominent author or movement has demanded strict equality. Since egalitarianism has come to be widely associated with the demand for economic equality, and this in turn with communistic or socialistic ideas, it is important to stress that neither communism nor socialism — despite their protest against poverty and exploitation and their demand for social security for all citizens — calls for absolute economic equality.

    The orthodox Marxist view of economic equality was expounded in the Critique of the Gotha Program Marx here rejects the idea of legal equality, on three grounds. In the first place, he indicates, equality draws on a merely limited number of morally relevant vantages and neglects others, thus having unequal effects; right can never be higher than the economic structure and cultural development of the society it conditions. In the second place, theories of justice have concentrated excessively on distribution instead of the basic questions of production.

    In the third place, a future communist society needs no law and no justice, since social conflicts will have vanished. As an idea, simple equality fails because of problems that are raised in regards to equality in general. It is useful to review these problems, as they require resolution in any plausible approach to equality. Should we seek to equalize the goods in question over complete individual lifetimes, or should we seek to ensure that various life segments are as equally well off as possible? Equality and efficiency need to be placed in a balanced relation.

    Often, pareto-optimality is demanded in this respect — for the most part by economists. A social condition is pareto-optimal or pareto-efficient when it is not possible to shift to another condition judged better by at least one person and worse by none Sen , chap. A widely discussed alternative to the Pareto principle is the Kaldor-Hicks welfare criterion.

    This stipulates that a rise in social welfare is always present when the benefits accruing through the distribution of value in a society exceed the corresponding costs. A change thus becomes desirable when the winners in such a change could compensate the losers for their losses and still retain a substantial profit. In contrast to the Pareto-criterion, the Kaldor-Hicks criterion contains a compensation rule Kaldor For purposes of economic analysis, such theoretical models of optimal efficiency make a great deal of sense.

    However, the analysis is always made relative to starting situation that can be unjust and unequal. A society can thus be close to pareto-optimality — i. For this reason, egalitarians claim that it may be necessary to reduce pareto-optimality for the sake of justice if there is no more egalitarian distribution that is also pareto-optimal. In the eyes of their critics, equality of whatever kind should not lead to some people having to do with less even though this equalizing down does not benefit any of those who are in a worse position.

    A strict and mechanical equal distribution between all individuals does not sufficiently take into account the differences among individuals and their situations. In essence, since individuals desire different things, why should everyone receive the same?

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    Intuitively, for example, we can recognize that a sick person has other claims than a healthy person, and furnishing each with the same things would be mistaken. With simple equality, personal freedoms are unacceptably limited and distinctive individual qualities insufficiently regarded; in this manner they are in fact unequally regarded.

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    Furthermore, persons not only have a moral right to their own needs being considered, but a right and a duty to take responsibility for their own decisions and their consequences. Working against the identification of distributive justice with simple equality, a basic postulate of virtually all present-day egalitarians is as follows: On the other hand, they are due compensation for inequalities that are not the result of self-chosen options.

    For egalitarians, the world is morally better when equality of life conditions prevail. This is an amorphous ideal demanding further clarification. Why is such equality an ideal, and equality of what, precisely? By the same token, most egalitarians presently do not advocate an equality of outcome, but different kinds of equality of opportunity, due to their emphasis on a pair of morally central points: The opportunities to be equalized between people can be opportunities for well-being i. It is not equality of objective or subjective well-being or resources themselves that should be equalized, but an equal opportunity to gain the well-being or resources one aspires to.

    Such equality of opportunity to well-being or resources depends on the presence of a realm of options for each individual equal to the options enjoyed by all other persons, in the sense of the same prospects for fulfillment of preferences or the possession of resources. The opportunity must consist of possibilities one can really take advantage of. Equal opportunity prevails when human beings effectively enjoy equal realms of possibility.

    Measures to reverse the trend could include anonymising CVs and including a mixed-sex panel in job interviews, the report recommended. T he EHRC is an independent body tasked with safeguarding and enforcing equality laws in Britain and can take companies to court if they fail to publish pay gap data. We urge you to turn off your ad blocker for The Telegraph website so that you can continue to access our quality content in the future. Visit our adblocking instructions page. Promoting Quality in Intercultural Youth Work: What is intercultural youth work?

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