There is no good reason to treat people as equals because they are manifestly unequal Discuss

Essay, 2002

7 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)


There is no good reason to treat people as equals because they are manifestly unequal.“ Discuss.

Injustice arises as much from treating unequals equally as from treating equals unequally.


Humanity went through centuries of slavery, Nazism, neglecting of women rights and discrimination of disabled. All those issues, now regarded as unquestionably wrong in the Western Hemisphere, were often based on arguments of manifested differences between people. Even though people are still as different in characteristics, endowment and lifestyle as they ever have been, the attitude of many societies towards those topics drastically changed over the last centuries. There must be some significant reasons to regard humans now as fundamentally equal although they are dissimilar in so many ways. The question is still a fascinating one: Is it therefore justified to treat all people equally and is that a goal worth achieving? It is legitimate to consider people equal in certain areas whilst unequal in others. I will argue that there are good reasons to treat people equally as they are equal in some respects and treat them unequally because they are unequal in others but also to treat people equally although they are unequal. However for this purpose my essay will be organized in three sections. In the first passage I will defend equality of rights, equality before the law and equality in politics, backed up by the principle of Equality of Respect or Universal Humanity. Starting of with equality of resources in the second part, I will also examine equality of happiness and welfare. In the third paragraph the debate over equality of opportunity and equality of a basic living standard marks the end of my discussion.

Contemporary moralists and political theorists agree on the fact that humans are essentially equal, of equal worth or how Bernard Williams puts it, equal “merely in their being men: it is their common humanity that constitutes their equality” (Pojman L., p. 91). This is strengthened by the Christian conception that every individual is believed to be equally loved by God. It follows that every being has exactly the same right to exist and each person’s interest therefore has the same weight. The important Christian philosopher Kant stated: “…treat each man as an end in himself, and never as a means only” (Pojman L., p. 95).[1] Therefore the question arises on which facts we are able to base this equality principle of Universal Humanity. Is it enough to say we all are born the same way, have two eyes and one nose and therefore we are all of equal worth or does extraordinary strength, intelligence or artistic ability make some people superior to others? Hence no value is absolutely superior to another but just of oscillating difference, each has an equal right to exist at the same time as the other. Nobody can claim to be superior because all individuals have certain characteristics that constitute them as equally important. Being human includes what Bernard William calls the desire for self-respect, which goes along with Kant´s claim of treating people as ends. This need can be applied to every human as much as having a soul and the capacity to feel pain and affection (surely felt by children or insane people likewise), the consciousness of existence, the capability of philosophical reflection (which distinguishes us from animals) and the possession of virtues. All those characteristics form the empirical basis for the concept of equality through Universal Humanity.

It is not relevant to what extent one is able to use those abilities merely that one possesses them at all. Not a certain degree of rationality as a moral agent makes one human, rather the ability to think about morality. Not the intensity of love we feel is important just the fact that we are capable of affection in the first place makes men alike in being human. Certain rights can be based on the fact that each person matters equally: equality of rights, equality before the law and equality in politics. Human rights for example should be applied to anybody. What the extent of those rights are, is still debatable. Should a terrorist deserve the status of prisoners of war, is the death penalty applicable for mass murder etc. Yet we think that every person has equal rights not to be tortured, raped or mentally abused, the same rights to express their opinions freely etc. because there can not be sufficient rational arguments to the contrary. Furthermore the law should be blind towards race or gender and guarantee every person the right of a fair trail. Equality of protection before the law after all does not mean everybody is treated exactly the same way. There are differences, which are certainly of importance like drunkenness, insanity or wealth in terms of financial penalties, yet the principle of Universal Humanity excludes discrimination because of gender, class or sexual orientation. However, a judge has to weigh interest equally because every person is fundamentally equal. The same fact has got particular relevance to the political aims of egalitarianism. Equality of democratic citizenship ensures equal weighing votes, equal possibilities to stand for office in free elections or participate in policy making for example without censuring candidates according to skin colour, intelligence, wealth or disabilities. In all those three sectors fundamental equality can be stated. The dissimilarities in essential human characteristics are unimportant and can therefore in most cases be neglected to establish the principle Equality of Respect or Universal Humanity for every individual.

Regarding people the same is not always justified, sometimes it is necessary to treat them unequally to produce an even outcome and to be just. Egalitarianism literally understood though, requires that everyone should get the same or be treated the same to reach equality in the end. Equality of resources demands for example the same amount of money, the same income, the same wealth, everyone should enjoy the same level of social and economic benefits. However this redistribution of capital is not possible due to practical and psychological reasons. Human mentality at present, constituted through envy, competition and the pursue of self-interest corresponds to our capitalist system. The continuous pursuit of material property seems therefore reasonable because individuals now do not think whether one has enough from something to satisfy one´s wishes but whether one has more or less than other persons. Taking less than one could get, is seen as irrational. As long this attitude towards possessions will sustain, redistribution is not possible without the morally unacceptable loss of liberty. Walzer´s expresses his objection to equality of wealth as follows: “Since individuals left unrestricted would freely exchange goods ….that would swiftly overturn an initially established condition of simple equality, this norm could be upheld over time only by continuous exercise of harsh coercion over individuals by the state” (Arneson RJ., p. 490). It would “…inevitably steamroller individual liberty…therefore we should not seek literal equality” (Arneson RJ., p. 490). Besides those practical considerations, contradictions in evaluation of those resources can be considered as an argument against this equality principle. Even with equal fund, the ideal of equal life chances for all citizens cannot be realized. For instance people with certain disabilities have to spend more money on wheelchairs, which others can spend on their leisure activities. One would not claim that giving them the same amount of money would make both people equally happy and satisfied in the end. We consequently are able to state that equal wealth does not necessarily create equal welfare which can be seen as surely more important than the former. If by giving people equal money we cannot give them equal welfare gains, then we must consider that people are different in what they consider beneficial to their welfare and happiness.


[1] By this he means, everybody has the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in his or her own way without being used by others.

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There is no good reason to treat people as equals because they are manifestly unequal Discuss
University of Southampton  (Department of Philosophy)
Philosophical Theory
1,7 (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
373 KB
Essay over equal treatment of people, although they are not equal.
There, Discuss, Philosophical, Theory
Quote paper
Lucia Schuster (Author), 2002, There is no good reason to treat people as equals because they are manifestly unequal Discuss, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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