I learn this statement, 'all human beings are equal' in school, and I feel I understand it somehow. But when I look at society, the statement is not quite true.

For example, people are paid differently for the work they do. The president is paid more than the person who works in the street. Even though they work for the same hours, and their effort might be the same for the work they do, the president is paid more. Most people agree that there is a difference in value in their labor and pays them according to their value. People are not treated the same in terms of labor.

And more, the country hires guards to protect the president while the street guys are in the constant threat of death. The life of the president is much more important than the street guy and I somehow can connect with this view. If the president dies, the lives of many more people would be in danger than the street guy's death does. So it's reasonable to think that the life of the president is more important.

Also, I don't want to treat the criminal as a human being who killed my family or neighbors. If someone cheated my whole fortune away and put my family's happiness in danger, I would not treat him as the person with the same value as my neighbor.

I find many examples that human beings are not equal. But I still feel somehow that the statement, human beings are equal makes sense. Because human beings are equal, we may go to Africa and do the charity for the poor family. Because their lives are important also.

I got this conflict in my mind, and I couldn't reconcile the different views quite well. How can I solve this conflict and make this knowledge more organized? What is the difference between two different views?

  • 2
    the idea isn't that all people are as morally good, or talented, as each other... but that all people have the same basic rights and duties. the same intrinsic value, etc.
    – user46524
    Jun 26 '20 at 2:09
  • "All men are equal" is not what is typically asserted, and is obviously false. The most common asserted forms are "all men are equal before the law", meaning have equal rights and obligations, and "all men are created equal" (US Declaration of Independence), meaning they start on equal footing but fate and/or their own actions can change that. Even these are factually false and should rather be understood normatively, this is what should be the case, ideally. Nietzsche disagreed even with that:"For justice speaks to me: men are not equal. And they should not become so either!"
    – Conifold
    Jun 26 '20 at 4:35
  • @Conifold Do you mean that their basic rights and duties (mentioned by unidentified) change with time they grow? Or they shouldn't have the same rights and duties from the beginning as they are all born different? Jun 26 '20 at 10:22
  • The Stanford Encyclopedia has an article about equality. There are many different ways in which the term is used.
    – Brian Z
    Jun 26 '20 at 13:23
  • Rights and duties refer to equality under the law (or ethics more broadly), and are usually presumed to remain more or less fixed, and equal, in adulthood (minors are treated differently, but also uniformly so). What changes, unequally, are things acquired in the course of life (possessions, skills, status, authority, etc.). "Created equal" refers to an equal starting point, no social birthright advantage (natural abilities are unequal and beyond our control). These are two separate aspects of equality (in ideal society).
    – Conifold
    Jun 26 '20 at 23:44

In terms of law, I would say it means all people should expect the same consequences for acting the same way, if the circumstances are equal.

For example:

Somebody who kills somebody, should generally get the same penalty than every other person killing somebody.

But killing somebody in self-defence is surely not the same like killing somebody without a reason.

Now you can say: Somebody killing somebody in self-defence should expect the same consequences than every other person killing somebody in self-defence.

So you can find any number of graduations of circumstances. If all circumstances of two cases would be the same, both suspects should get the same penalty, no matter who they are.

  • In front of the law, it doesn' look all the people are the same either. First of all, there are differences in the applications of the law by the age group. And some government people are exempt from some of the crimes. How about people living in the different countries? Are they not the same quality of people because of their nationality? They are bound by different laws. Jul 7 '20 at 12:09
  • In addition, I think when we say human beings are equal, it's not only a matter of the law in my point of view. I'd like to treat Africans with the same respect even though I'm not living in Africa. I feel that's right and it's not because of the law. But I cannot grasp cleary what's the feeling because I see the contradiction in the statement 'all human being are equal'. Jul 9 '20 at 9:25

It means legally and morally no person by nature is entitled to anything more or less than another person.

So any reason why one person is treated different from another must be artificial and human-made.

Of those suicidal reasons there are many, so each person is generally treated differently than others.

The egalitarian principle affirms the opposite of previous beliefs that some people are entitled by nature to more than others. E.g. kings and nobility being appointed by gods to rule others, or white people being entitled to being preferred to non-whites, or men being more valuable than women.

This affirmation is not strongly consistent, as an example a typical morality is "women and children first" in emergencies, which is not commonly justified morally and not viable in law. Also laws of inheritance would still grant ownership of valuables based on biological descent in the absence of a will, which can be seen as a violation of the principle of equality. Another huge problem is abortion and the question if when this principle starts to apply.

But the existence of social difference in itself does not violate the principle, it does not require each human on this planet to own exactly on car, exactly one room in exactly one house and exactly the same salary and the same food every day.

You could read up on the different forms of egalitarianism, maybe start on Wikipedia (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egalitarianism):

Some specifically focused egalitarian concerns include communism, legal egalitarianism, luck egalitarianism, political egalitarianism, gender egalitarianism, racial equality, equality of outcome and Christian egalitarianism.

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