Oh, hi there, Internet. What I have for you today is a paper that I just wrote on the misunderstanding of human equality. Enjoy:
The Limits of Human Equality
The United States’ Declaration of Independence states that it is self-evident that “all men are created equal” (Jefferson 83), but nobody knows exactly how they are equal. Equality is an idea that is widely misunderstood and misused, especially when it is applied to social and political ideology. Equality, simply put, means sameness between things or groups. In a mathematical equation, one side of the equation is the same as the other. Two equally measured glasses of water have the same amount of water in each. Any two people are equal in that they have bodies that work in the same basic ways. One of the great ethical debates of all time concerns how equality applies to humans beyond the obvious physical similarities that they all share. The philosophical ideas dealing with human equality beyond physical sameness are complex and controversial because all people cannot agree on the limits of the intangible aspects of equality.
The major misunderstanding of human equality is that it exists in a clearly defined set of ways beyond shared physical human qualities. All people breathe, eat, sleep, and have bodies. They are equal in those ways but all people may or may not have the same rights, abilities, dignity, or deservedness any particular treatment. These and other aspects of human equality beyond obvious physical similarities are invisible, intangible, and debatable. These factors are the ones that are determined by ideologies and philosophies, which vary from society to society and from person to person. A universal set of abstract human similarities is nonexistent if there is no definite, universal, authoritative, and foundational guide. Individuals must therefore base their own personal definitions of equality’s limits upon the ideologies they like and agree with. This is an unfortunate reality in a relativistic world.
Because of the many viewpoints on nonphysical human equality, the subject is debated often. The area of this topic that seems to be most often discussed is the idea that rights are the primary abstract factor of equality. People disagree widely regarding what rights all people are equally entitled to, though. Some believe that a law-abiding person has a right to live while a murderous criminal deserves to die. Others consider the two of them as equally possessing a right to life and to mercy. Others consider a fetus equal to a grown person in its rights as a human being. The disagreement about abstract equality mostly concerns human rights, but rights are determined by governments and other authorities based on their own judgment of what is true and just. People cannot even collectively agree on what or who rights come from. Human rights are therefore not a reliable component of a universally acceptable definition of human equality.
In a significant practical misuse of the term, equality is also defined by individuals and groups in ways that benefit their own motives. In a largely relativistic society like America, people use the idea of equality as a tool chiefly to advance their agendas. For example, some declare homosexual couples and heterosexual couples equal in the way they ought to be viewed and treated. Others declare men and women equal in physical and intellectual abilities (feminist.org). These groups confidently utilize the idea of equality to help persuade doubters that their ideas are right and true. Many people believe that all people are equally entitled to the same rights, as expressed in the United States’ Declaration of Independence and its Constitution. The founding fathers used the idea of human equality to inspire the American people, instill a sense of unity, and “to set up a maxim for free society” (Lincoln).
These ideas are fragile, though, because intelligent, informed people can disagree with them. No person in his right mind would argue that two glasses with the same amount of liquid in each are not equal. Neither would that person argue that two plus two does not equal four. He might, however, argue against the idea that homosexual love and heterosexual love are equal. He may even take the position that all people do not share the same rights, that a person does not have a right to life if he is a murderous criminal, or that he does not have a right to keep and bear a firearm as the United States Constitution says he does (“Constitution” 21). These are the thoughts of many intelligent men who may or may not be philosophically or morally misguided.
It seems, then, that without a universal set of moral and philosophical guidelines, there can be no definition of abstract human equality’s limits even among wise and intelligent people. It also seems that if all ideologies are acceptable and if a person is free to pick and choose his favorite based on his personal taste, then none of them are true or valid because none is greater than the other. Therefore, under such circumstances, there is no true non-physical equality among humans. There is only physical and obvious similarity.
This does not mean that there is no true definition of equality, because there is such a thing as truth. This is made clear by the reality that certain things are indisputable – for example, the fact that two plus two equals four. Unfortunately, though, ideologies and philosophies are not as easily defined as true or false. There are some ideas that all people will never collectively recognize as right, and this reality is the natural source of all debate – a human activity that exists because of man’s natural inclination towards conflict. Because abstract human equality is an idea that is wide open for personal opinion, its limits cannot be solidly determined in a world full of people holding varying worldviews. Until one ideology is universally accepted as the singular and absolute truth, equality can only be defined by the obvious physical similarities that all human beings share.
Miss, Angela M., ed. The Belmont Abbey College Reader. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. Print.
“Mission and Principles.” Feminist Majority Foundation. Feminist Majority Foundation, 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013
United States. Cong. Senate. Constitution of the United States. Hearings 111th Cong., 1st sess. Washington: Joint Committee on Printing. 29 July 2009. Print.