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  Equality is one of the central ethical, moral and political values of liberals and socialists. They know, of course, that all women and men are not created equal, if equal is taken to mean identical. One way of interpreting equality as a principle, one with its roots in the thought of Aristotle, is as a consistency-requirement: no discrimination should be made between persons who are equal in all respects relevant to the decision in question. However, this formal principle allows for great inequalities where people are not equal in all relevant respects. A more substantive conception of equality, found in Christian and Western political philosophy, supposes that all persons, by virtue of their common humanity or common needs, are fundamentally equal. So, it is said by utilitarians that no person should count for more than one, and, by followers of Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804), that no person should be treated as a means to satisfy the ends of some other person.

This substantive conception of equality proscribes racism and sexism, and prescribes legal and political equality—at least for sane, adult citizens—and these presumptions are now accepted in all modern democracies. However, political disagreement centres on whether egalitarianism requires a moral commitment to ensuring that people experience equal levels of income, or utility, or welfare. Most philosophers would agree that those who favour ‘equality of results’, or of ‘outcomes’ have to give reasons why they favour such policies. Relevant reasons might include the belief that without economic equality people would not be capable of acting as independent citizens, as Rousseau argued, or the thesis that human fellowship cannot be freely founded without extensive equality in resources, as the ethical socialists maintained. The philosopher John Rawls has argued both that people do not deserve many of their advantages, and that inequalities have to be justified—in particular inequalities may be justified if they increase the welfare of the worst-off people in a society.

Most controversy about what equality requires arises from disputes over the meaning and mechanisms for enforcing equality of opportunity. On the one hand there is debate over whether or not equality of opportunity simply means a fair opportunity to enjoy unequal rewards and positions. On the other hand the procedures required for producing ‘equal opportunity’ are widely disputed. For example, redistributive policies or policies to produce affirmative action are criticized on the grounds that they deny the better-off and nonminorities their rights to equality of opportunity. BO\'L

See also conservatism; feminism; human rights; liberalism; socialism and social democracy.Further reading J. Baker, Arguing For Equality; , J.A. Rawls, Theory of Justice.



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