Equality: Just and unjust

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Social equality matters. But does it matter how we go about getting it? Surely it does.

There are two ways to think about equality. The way that I find most interesting is not the one I’m talking about here. I’m most interested in what I call basic equality. That’s the idea that we are all each other’s equal. We’re all equally deserving of a basic level of respect, we all have the same starting point when it comes to our inherent value and there’s therefore something true to the claim that we have a duty to treat each other as having a fundamental dignity as human beings. I think that’s a correct idea. I also think it’s a fascinating idea because it’s tenaciously held by many proponents of political liberalism who reject the theological foundations of basic equality, as I discussed in episode 8, “Secularism and Equality.” I don’t think they can have it both ways.

But that’s not the kind of equality that I’m talking about now. Here I’m talking about equality as an outcome at which we aim, the results of personal practices as well as social policies. To aim at equality in this sense is not, of course to make everyone just the same (surely nobody wants that), but it is to try to aim at creating a society where everyone can thrive and there’s no gross disparity in people’s lot in life. Sure, some people will be rich and others not so much. But to have general social equality, there won’t be CEOs with weekly incomes that amount to a full year’s wages for someone who works back-breakingly hard for forty hours a week (to pick an obvious example). There won’t be people who can afford every luxury that life can possibly offer, while others who genuinely work to earn a living and provide for their families must live in continual anxiety about whether or not they can meet costs of the basic necessities of life. Continue reading “Equality: Just and unjust”