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Equality and Inequality

The usual understanding of these words is that in relation to two things being compared, equality exists when one is neither more nor less in some specified respect. They are unequal if, in a given respect, one is more and the other less.

The most important point to remember is that things cannot be compared in general, but only in a precisely defined respect. Thus, for example, when we say that all human beings are equal, we must specify the only respect in which that is true, namely, in their humanity.

Two things can be compared in another way. One may have a characteristic or attribute that the other totally lacks. If, for example, one is a human being possessing an intellectual power that the other, a brute animal, totally lacks, they can be said to be unequal. But when we say that human beings are equal because they all have some intellectual power, their inequality in the degree of intellectual power possessed does not negate their equality in kind.

The Dimensions of Equality
Six Great Ideas (1981,1984), Chapter 21
The Equalities to Which We Are Entitled
Six Great Ideas (1981,1984), Chapter 22
The Inequalities That Justice Also Requires
Six Great Ideas (1981,1984), Chapter 23

Adapted from
Adler's Philosophical Dictionary (1995)



Revised 17 December 2000

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