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I personally hold the belief, like most, that human beings are equal and that they should be treated equally under the law. However, I am still curious as to why this claim is true and if it is not true, why is it not? Also, I understand that many Religious beliefs may hold that human beings are equal, but that aside, what secular arguments are there to be made. Remember equality and equity are different; equality is the state of equal opportunity, while equity is the equal outcome.

  • the sanity of our political structure may well depend upon it, at least. – another_name Apr 8 at 21:57
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    Legal standards are not true or untrue, they are beneficial or detrimental, practical or impractical. Since we have no way to neutrally adjudicate people's worth in advance it seems prudent to give them all equal opportunities and let the chips fall where they may. It also reduces strife and acrimony, given our psychological defaults. Rawls developed a detailed argument "from the Original Position" for the social/political utility of equality, see SEP. – Conifold Apr 8 at 21:58
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    It's perfectly clear that human beings are in no way equal. They should be treated with respect in society and with equality under the law. But a cursory glance around you will show the incredible diversity of humanity. We are not all Gauss, Newton, or Einstein. Some of us run mom and pop grocery stores. We are all human, magnificent creations each and every one of us. But equal? As in the exact same? No of course not. How could anyone even say that? Equal means the same in every respect. Not even identical twins are equal. – user4894 Apr 9 at 3:46
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    Because people who are treated unfairly by an arbitrary system such as plutocracy have a habit of periodically demonstrating the tenous nature the their 'superiors' superiority with fists, feet, sticks, fire, bullets and tanks. Much better to avoid that if possible. – Richard Apr 9 at 12:28
  • Actually government judicial systems do not afford equality to all. Even from ancient times a citizen had superior rights to a foreigner. And slaves, women and children less still. Today the balance has swung in the opposite direction where minorities, victims and/or illegal aliens real or perceived are afforded superior treatment by virtue of the fact that not all humans are equal and these differences ought to be artificially balanced out by some arbitrary decision. – Autodidact Apr 26 at 12:00
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“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands… may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison, the Father of the Constitution.

In order to effectively resist tyranny, American government instituted a strict balance of powers. What are these powers within our government of the people, by the people, and for the people -- you might ask:

  • Executive branch
  • Legislative branch
  • Judicial branch

At the federal level, the executive offices are filled by the President and Vice-President. The legislative offices are filled by senators and representatives of the states -- in Congress. And the judicial offices are filled by the appointed judges of the Supreme Court in Washington DC.

At the state level, the executive offices are filled by Governors and Lieutenant Governors. The legislative offices are filled by state senators and representatives who convene at the state capitals. Which brings us to the judicial branch of government at the state level.

Judicial..."of or pertaining to a judge; pertaining to the administration of justice," from Latin iudicalis "of or belonging to a court of justice," from iudicium "judgment, decision of a court of justice," also the court itself, from iudex "a judge," a compound of ius "right, law" (see just (adj.)) + root of dicere "to say"...

The state judicial system sees to it that laws enacted by state legislatures are fairly enforced through judgment of those who stand charged and accused of committing crimes or breaking laws or ordinances. The judicial offices at the state level are filled by 1) judges; and 2) jurors.

There would be a dire imbalance of power, if all criminal convictions were decided only by a select number of judges. Therefore, juries decide cases that go to trial; and grand juries may even decide whether or not a capital case has enough evidence to move forward to the trial phase.

All juries are selected at random from the citizenry, and are mandated to be peers of the accused (tried by a jury of your peers). They could not be "peers" if citizens were not given equal status under the law. So, equality is a major aspect of the balance of powers which theoretically forestalls tyranny.

Peer..."an equal in rank or status"

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What is equality?

The word is so widely used, and is drawn in such positive light, yet so undefined.

Biologically humans differ to such a degree where we use categories to distinguish groups (superficially perceivable patterns): Race and ethnicity. Another major differences occur physically and psychologically between the two genders. We also differ genetically and culturally, and regardless what the source of the difference is, people are born with different personalities, capabilities, opportunities, bodies and behaviors. This goes even at the level of siblings - further escalating as genetic distance grows. There is also a factor of randomness (unpredictability), even arbitrariness (mutations).

Intelligence, productivity, creativity, interests, ambition, persistence, strength, health, environment (and its influences) - these are all factors which differ and have significant influence on the resulting personality. Not only that, somebody who is intelligent and hard working is likely to become much more wealthier (especially in a relatively free market) than somebody who is not (see: IQ and income). Somebody can be born with a great voice or are inherently gifted, which allows them to become successful musicians. People who are higher also have much better chances to be successful in Basketball - up to a point where people below a certain height may never be able to become one of the best.

What is equal? Well, for one we are all the same species and our reproduction is compatible. It appears, that on this scope the differences are just a question of detail, but the details are exactly which make every human not only unique, but even extraordinarily different, sometimes even seemingly alien. One person can be an emperor, ruling over millions of people, and another one can be a slave, devoid of any power and self-determination. One person can be a billionaire mastermind businessman, trading effectively world wide with millions of people, the other could be just a low-level drug dealer.

Now, there is a counter-notion to that, which is the ancient idea of Tabula Rasa, which is however also inhabited by (neo-)Marxists. It assumes that humans are - at least intellectually and spiritually born "equal". Also they are born "perfect", and subtractively deprived of it as society/humankind is corrupt and flawed. So in this sense the state of equality is also equated with the idea of perfection.

Is the shout for equality an expression of objective truth - is it just a clarification, a friendly reminder that we are "equal" to those who may have forgotten it? Or is it a call to arms - against those who claim that inequality indeed exists, which is what makes us diverse in the first place in uncountable regards? Or even against those who grew beyond what people consider "equal enough to count as the same"?

Given that for 1-2 centuries the notion of "equality" is propagated, often under the banner of Democracy and Socialism, the latter may be the case - a call to arms, an stern reminder. It's a warning to those standing above or apart from the bulk of society - from the great mass of averageness. It's a warning to the individual to subjugate itself into the collective.

In this sense equality is a counter idea to the individual, and a tool of collectivism and collectivists to pursue its agendas.

Now, if the idea of equality is long enough propagated, people start to believe it in an abstract, unclear way (which means it is something like a superstition). When people happen to vastly outpace them in some way, even in magnitudes they can't even understand, it means to them that this person must do something unethical in addition to being somewhat better. After all, they are supposed to be "equal"... so where comes that difference from? A common conclusion is that something wrong and unfair must occur - that person must be unethical or lucky.

The Marxist's answer was collective exploitation:

Starting with the conjectural premise that social change occurs because of the struggle between different classes within society who are under contradiction against each other, a Marxist would conclude that capitalism exploits and oppresses the proletariat, therefore capitalism will inevitably lead to a proletarian revolution.

In this case, that other way more successful person is declared to be part of a different collective, and that collective is out to exploit yours. But it can't help itself, because all collectives (nations, races, ethnics, genders, etc) are in continuous struggle with each other anyway. Also, given the materialist views, the difference in competence is only due to environmental factors (parents, wealth, opportunities - "being born rich").

That way the equality principle is restored: Every cause for inequality is due to unethical or unfair factors. So in the case of "being born rich", it is just a continuous perpetuation of exploitative behavior overarching many generations.

Is equality good?

Depends on how you define and apply it. Both concepts of equality and inequality have been used for good and evil (simply said). Inequality has once justified slavery, feudalism and discrimination, but it also justifies individual liberties and the promotion of great minds (instead of ostracization). Equality justifies genocide*, but also the idea of every soul having an inherent, unquestionable, equal value, thus murder and crimes being unacceptable no matter the "actual value" of the victim or the perpetrator.

*Justifies genocide (like putting people into gulags to work and starve to death) in the sense that if you assume "ought-to-be"-equality, then "is"-inequality is an indicator of some corruption or flaw, justifying radical actions taken to combat inequality by all means necessary.

Why is equality considered good?

Because the dominating definition today is emanating from Marxists and neo-Marxists, who are occupying the political left all throughout Western Civilization. And as of Europe, they are the dominating political force (as self-declared "Social Democrats", which is a moderate version of these ideologies). Also the right side of the political spectrum, which includes Christians, do not oppose the idea of equality either - they just have a different interpretation. Democracy also promotes the idea of equality (for example in regards to voting and how jurisprudence works).

It appears like the idea of equality is only contested in details (equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome), however that alone makes a lot of difference. The difference can be a relatively free society vs a totalitarian society. So even libertarians (Anarchists/Minarchists) tend to argue that what matters is equality before the law (which is the same as the actual rule of law also for those in power) - instead of contesting the idea of "equality" in itself (how could they? It's a broad, undefined term used mostly to virtue signal - devoid of meaning unless specified).

Most ideologies and philosophies have their own ideas of equality, even though they may disagree with each other. Christians and conservatives are not averse of the concept of equality of opportunity, while for (neo-)Marxists it is just a stepping stone towards equality of outcome.

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    equality does not justify genocide!! – another_name Apr 12 at 1:21
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    Political rant masquerading as an answer. Sad. – armand Apr 12 at 2:47
  • @another_name - Well, it can. If you assume every human is equal and that any (significant) difference is a form of corruption, you can justify taking hostile action against those people/groups - "because it's just fighting back against corruption." Also: You can justify taking action against those being different for the sake of seeking equity as a factor of peace - meaning: even though the only thing you can do is hammer down the nail that sticks out, you expect the overall outcome to be better only because more equity has been achieved. – Battle Apr 12 at 6:06
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    you can try to justify genocide with 'equality' just like you can 'inequality' (or indeed any political ethical etc. terminology you like) – another_name Apr 12 at 7:52
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    @another_name - Fair enough. I meant the "try" aspect to be implicit - I didn't mean universally (or obviously) justified (like actual self-defence from an attacker). – Battle Apr 12 at 11:25
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Universal human worth might be one good starting point in working out why inequality might be a bad thing.

Until the eighteenth century, it was assumed that human beings are unequal by nature — i.e., that there was a natural human hierarchy. 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. everyone deserved the same dignity and the same respect. 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: one to be sure not always adhered to later by the Christian church. 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 (1651) postulated that in their natural condition, individuals possess equal rights, because over time they have the same capacity to do each other harm. Locke (1690) argued that all human beings have the same natural right to both (self-)ownership and freedom. Rousseau (1755) declared social inequality to be a virtually primeval decline of the human race from natural equality in a harmonious state of nature: a decline catalyzed by the human urge for perfection, property and possessions (Dahrendorf 1962). For Rousseau (1755, 1762), 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 (1785), 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 1797, p. 230). Such Enlightenment ideas stimulated the great modern social movements and revolutions, and were taken up in modern constitutions and declarations of human rights. During the French Revolution, equality — along with freedom and fraternity — became a basis of the Déclaration des droits de l´homme et du citoyen of 1789.

I mean, take your pick. One may, I suppose, counter that those with greater opportunity are in some sense morally superior, or just some better type of person. Personally I think that misunderstands both morality and criticism of it.

moral equality can be understood as prescribing treatment of persons as equals, i.e., with equal concern and respect, and not the often implausible principle of treating persons equally. This fundamental idea of equal respect for all persons and of the equal worth or equal dignity of all human beings (Vlastos 1962) 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

This 'moral equality' "hold[s] generally and primarily for all actions and treatment of others and for resulting circumstance" not explicitly "distributive justice and the evaluation of distribution". How to work out the relationship between the two (closely related) concepts will take more work.

  • just posting some bumpf because of all the bad answers – another_name Apr 12 at 1:17
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    Would be great to indicate where you are quoting from. – armand Apr 12 at 2:46
  • oh sorry, it's just the stanford philosophy encyclopedia, on equality, which i link to under 'inequality' @armand – another_name Apr 12 at 2:48
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First, it should be noted that the assumption that equality is good has been demonstrated by anthropology to be a cultural trait, and that the importance accorded to equality varies from country to country. For example, some populations hold the traditional view that parents' assets should be split equal between the potential heirs at their death, while others privilege the elder son. However, equality before the law is clearly a basic component of democratic governments, and we can try to understand why it is so. I think it can be done without resorting to moral considerations.

In The Social Contract Rousseau states that government is possible only with the consent of the people (what he calls "the multitude"). That means that any stable form of government has to be accepted by the people it has dominion over, or at least a sizable majority. Otherwise, they might enter in rebellion. This means that a stable government relies on a consensus about the right and duties of each citizen.

Now, we could naturally expect every citizen to desire all the rights for himself and their loved ones, and want to affect all the duties to the others. Life would be great if that was possible, alas we have to consider the fact that the others have the same desire toward us. It appears that some balance of power is at play, limiting what each citizen can hope for, because all of us are too weak to have the multitude follow our desires.

If one citizen or a minority has enough power, for example by being the strongest in a small group of people who can't fight united, or having some kind of authority over a sizable militia, they can maintain privilege for a while. But as the group gets bigger, it becomes difficult to gain and maintain the level of power that can grant unequal rights.

Still, each of us wants rights, freedom of speech and circulation, security of our property. How can we convince the multitude to enforce those ? One possibility is to claim them, not for us only, but for every one. Instead of saying "my stuff is mine, yours is negotiable" or "I can say whatever I want, you shut up", which nobody will ever accept, proposing "your stuff is yours, mine is mine" and "we should all have the right to speak our mind" will necessarily gather more support. Fighting for your rights, I fight for mine, and vice versa. By guaranteeing that everyone will have basic rights, each individual can make sure to be granted those rights as well.

Full equality before the law has constraint, as my freedom has to stop where yours begins, but it also has the strongest guarantee for my rights to be accepted by everyone and remain stable. Some equilibrium can be found with a majority or a sizable minority having privileges, but one can never know when the cursor will be moved, leaving him/her deprived of rights. Life is cool being a free roman citizen compared to being a slave, until you get in debt and become a slave yourself. The best guarantee against ever becoming a slave, or have your throat slit by a rebellious slave, is to give up the potential benefit of being a slave owner and banning slavery for everyone.

We can see that equal rights for everyone and equality before the law provide for the most stable and secure position for every single citizen, which makes it desirable for the vast majority of them who can't afford to dominate all others. That explains why it became a natural trend in modern societies.

Spinoza too analyses how the balance of individual powers builds up to general will in his Theologico-Political Treatise

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Equality as a value cannot be true or untrue, but rather desirable(good) or otherwise. It is not to be naturally found, but socio-politically established. Some secular arguments as to why equality is desirable:

  1. Consequential approach - It promotes social cohesion, stability and progress.

  2. Deontological approach - It upholds the dignity and self-worth of the oppressed and discriminated.

Some approaches to prove equality as a matter of fact

  1. Biological - We are one species.
  2. Evolutionary - Equality is naturally found in primitive tribes.
  3. Humanist - All human beings are equal in that they are rational beings.

However, equality as a matter of social fact is found only in small homogeneous communities.

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Equality is good is not a fundamental truth of nature.

It comes from an urge within us, to feel secure. The treat others as you'd treat yourself idea.That if you were to fall into their position, how would you like to be treated, what circumstances(living conditions, rights, dignity, opportunities) would you like to be in.

Generally, people(or groups of people) with a strong sense of distinction care less about equality. They sub-consciously hold that the distinction I carry is an inseparable part of my existence. And so I'll never fall into a postion outside of it.

A utilitarian argument can be made that a society with low equality would be low on social capital and cohesion.

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"[...]human beings are equal and that they should be treated equally under the law."

This almost never happens.

The first inequality starts at birth. In short: born in VIP family, all access granted. No trouble to do anything since most of our current society works in bribe-mode (or bribe under other so-called legal names/means). Born in poor family: nothing.

From there, the new citizens will have totally different rights, privileges, grants, benefits, etc.

This damages society overall, because many people way below average will end up in high places while the ones that could accomplish many things will have nearly no chance to even get the proper educational path needed for their accomplishments to be recognized. This starts in school and continues later on where some actually learn throughout schools to get their diplomas while others buy them-in cash-down without even granting their presence to the school they're at.

So there is no equality of rights, no possibility of equal opportunity. At most we have a cripple illusion of one.

Yes, religions say all humans are equal before the divinity.

But this presents two problems - 1: Does not help us in practice 2: Can be even considered part of the scam that always implies that later things will be better so it's fine to suffer now (culminating to people being absolved of everything and ending up in nice places after dying).

  • please answer the question, which is not "are we equal ?"... – armand Apr 13 at 8:28
  • At least in the USA all you have to do is follow 3 simple rules and there is only a 2% chance of being in poverty and a 74% chance of being middle class. That seems about as equal as things can get and still maintain a prosperous country. We can certainly make everyone equal by dragging down the top 90% to the level of the bottom 10% but that's a terrible idea. The 3 simple rules: 1. Graduating from high school. 2. Waiting to get married until after 21 and do not have children till after being married. 3. Having a full-time job. – Dunk Apr 18 at 21:23
  • Hmm....what middle class ? The middle class is 4%, the top 1% and the slaves 95%. – Overmind Apr 19 at 5:01
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Nature abhors equality, but it's also completely Darwinist, cruel and unforgiving. The danger in rejecting this rule comes from the potential systemic abuse of power (when this rule is not protected), coming specially from mediocrity, that would destroy the correct system of values in society. Overprotecting this rule is also dangerous, because the (unspoken ) truth is that not all people are equal.

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