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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S021-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved January 21, 2018, from

Article Summary

Equality has long been a source of political and philosophical controversy. A central question about equality is how one might link empirical or moral claims about the extent to which persons are equal to judgements about the moral acceptability or unacceptability of social inequalities, and in particular how far considerations of equality license social action to bring about greater social equality. A traditional liberal argument holds that approximate equality of human strength makes it prudent for humans to place themselves under a common political authority, thus producing a justification for equality before the law. But any generalization of this argument ignores the cases where strength is unequal and the resulting balance of power unjust. Equality of worth is a principle recognized in many philosophical traditions, but its broad acceptance leaves open many problems of interpretation. In particular, it is not clear how far the principle calls for greater equality of social conditions. Persons may derive a sense of worth from enjoying the fruits of their labour, and this will legitimately block some redistribution; certain inequalities may work to everyone’s advantage; and the impartial concern of the equality principle may be at odds with the sense of ourselves as persons with specific attachments. In this context, some have wanted to soften the interpretation of equality to mean equality of opportunity or merely that inequalities should not be cumulative, although how far these moves are justified is a matter for dispute. By contrast, challenges to the equality principle from considerations of incentives, desert or difference can more easily be met.

Citing this article:
Weale, Albert. Equality, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S021-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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