The Egalitarian Dimension of Human Rights – Equality


‘A remarkable feature of the robust and nuanced contemporary philosophical literature on egalitarianism is its lack of engagement with the theory and practice of human rights. This disconnect is puzzling because the modern human rights movement is arguably the most salient and powerful manifestation of a commitment to equality in our time. Perhaps philosophers writing on equality have not articulated the implications of their work for human rights because they have operated within the strictures of a problematic but largely unquestioned assumption: that it is possible to develop a political philosophy for the individual state, considered in isolation. [ … ] The lack of engagement between the egalitarianism literature and the human rights literature is mutual. For the most part, international lawyers and others professionally concerned with human rights, to the extent that they have examined the theoretical grounding of human rights at all, have not utilized the rich philosophical literature on egalitarianism.’

|-Buchanan, A. (2005). Equality and Human Rights. Po!itics, Phi!osophy, and Economics, 69-90.

‘The reason that equality matters to us is because we believe that there is something valuable about human relationships that are, in certain crucial respects at least, unstructured by differences of rank, power or status. So understood, equality is in some ways a puzzling value and a difficult one to interpret. … [I]n order to understand the value of equality, one needs to investigate the specific respects in which egalitarian relationships must be free from regimentation by considerations of rank or status. One needs to characterize in greater detail the special value that egalitarian relationships are thought to have and to consider which differences of authority or status have the capacity to compromise that value.’

|-Scheffler, S. (2011). Choice, Circumstance, and the Value of Equality. Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. 4:5-28.

‘Relational egalitarianism…is a view about social justice; its aim is to specify rights and duties that individuals have as members of society, and which normally override other social values…The objection to [inegalitarian] relationships is not merely that they are, in some sense, bad for people, but that they constitute unjust treatment: domination involves subjection to the arbitrary exercise of power on the part of somebody else; marginalization involves an unjust denial of opportunities to participate in basic social and political institutions.’

|-Schemmel, C. (2011). Why relational egalitarians should care about distributions. Social Theory and Practice37(3), 365-390.

‘Living in a society of equals is good both intrinsically and instrumentally. When the relationships among a society’s members are structured by rigid hierarchical distinctions, [this account] claims, the resulting patterns of deference and privilege exert a stifling effect on human freedom and inhibit the possibilities of human exchange. Because of the profound and formative influence of basic political institutions, moreover, patterns of deference and privilege that are politically entrenched spill over into personal relationships of all kinds. They distort people’s attitudes toward themselves, undermining the self-respect of some and encouraging an insidious sense of superiority in others. Furthermore, social hierarchies require stabilizing and sustaining myths, and the necessity of perpetuating and enforcing these myths discourages truthful relations among people and makes genuine self-understanding more difficult to achieve. In all of these ways, inegalitarian societies compromise human flourishing; they limit personal freedom, corrupt human relationships, undermine self-respect and inhibit truthful living. …[Whereas] an egalitarian society helps to promote the flourishing of its citizens…[and] to live in society as an equal is a good thing in its own right.’

|-Anderson, E. S. (1999). What is the Point of Equality?. Ethics109(2), 287-337.


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