Why We (Almost Certainly) are Not Moral Equals

The Journal of Ethics 21 (4):375-401 (2017)


Faith in the universal moral equality of people enjoys close to unanimous consensus in present moral and political philosophy. Yet its philosophical justification remains precarious. The search for the basis of equality encounters insurmountable difficulties. Nothing short of a miracle seems required to stabilize universal equality in moral status amidst a vast space of distinctions sprawling between people. The difficulties of stabilizing equality against differentiation are not specific to any particular choice regarding the basis of equality. To show this, I will provide a general diagnosis of the difficulty together with its application to the arguably best attempt at a solution, namely to ground moral equality in a form of subjectivity. In his recent book Equality for Nonegalitarians, George Sher advances the view that “we are moral equals because we are equally centers of consciousness. …The fact that we are equals in this respect—that each is a world unto himself—…explains why each person’s interests are of equal moral importance”. Yet the worlds we are unto ourselves can no more withstand the force of differentiation than previous candidates suggested in the literature, and the reasons why run deeper than even some critics have recognized. The prospects for vindicating universal moral equality remain bleak.

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Author's Profile

Stan Husi
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

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Citations of this work

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What’s Personhood Got to Do with It?Hrishikesh Joshi - 2020 - Philosophia 48 (2):557-571.

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