Jeremy Waldron (New York University - School of Law) has posted Basic Equality on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This is a three-part study and defense of the idea of basic human equality. (This is the idea that humans are basically one another's equals, as opposed to more derivative theories of the dimensions in which we ought to be equal or the particular implications that equality might have for public policy.) Part (1) of the paper examines the very idea of basic equality and it tries to elucidate it by considering what an opponent of basic human equality (e.g. a philosophical racist) might hold. It explores the idea of there being no morally significant fundamental divisions among humans (of the kind that some people insist on as between humans and others animals). Part (2) considers whether basic human equality must be based on some descriptive similarity among us (naturalistic or metaphysical); it considers the positions of a number of thinkers who have denied this. Part (3) considers John Rawls's conception of basic equality in terms of range properties. (Being in Ohio is a range property; Columbus and Cincinnati are both equally in Ohio even though even though Columbus is in the center of the state, while Cincinnati is just over the river from Kentucky.) It explores the application of this Rawlsian idea to the descriptive properties that might be thought relevant to human equality. This three part paper is a rather technical philosophical exploration. And it is just a beginning; we need much more work on the idea of basic equality. Some of the energy that has gone into discussions of equality as a policy aim (e.g. in the Dworkin/Sen literature or in the literature surrounding Rawls's Difference Principle) needs to be devoted to this more fundamental conception.
And from the paper:
The idea of a "range property" should be understood as an intensional relation between properties. Instead of saying that R is a range property if R is binary and there is a scalar property, S, such that R applies to a range of cases covered by S, we say something like this:
RP*: R is a range property with respect to S if R is binary and there is a scalar property, S, such that R applies to individual items in virtue of their being within a certain range on the scale connoted by S
The advantage of this formulation is its emphasis on the point that the relation between R and S is essential to the understanding of R.
Suppose one were to emphasize something like the capacity for reason as the relevant range property. One might deal with the case of infants, not by expanding oneís notion of reason to include the mental operations of a month-old baby, but by defining a relation between an infantís capacities (both actual and potential) and the capacities indicated within the ambit of a somewhat narrower range property focused on mature reason. This is what John Locke does in regard to reason. Locke says:
Children, I confess, are not born in this full state of Equality, though they are born to it. Their Parents have a sort of Rule and Jurisdiction over them, when they come into the World, and for some time after; but it is but a temporary one. ... The Power, then, that Parents have over their Children, arises from that Duty which is incumbent on them, to take care of their Off-spring, during the imperfect state of Childhood. To inform the Mind, and govern the Actions of their yet ignorant Nonage, till Reason shall take its place, and ease them of that Trouble, is what the Children want, and the Parents are bound to. ... Thus we are born Free, as we are born Rational; not that we have actually the Exercise of either: Age, that brings one, brings with it the other too. And thus we see how natural Freedom and Subjection to Parents may consist together, and are both founded on the same Principle.
Despite its complexity, an account like this is much more sensible than the sort of Peter Singer approach which insists on asking, "What is the relevant difference in actual capacity between an adult chimpanzee and a human infant (or a severely intellectually disabled human adult) in virtue of which the human has more value and commands more respect than the chimpanzee?"
This is an important paper. It addresses a fundamental and thorny problem in political morality and normative legal theory--the fundamental basis for equality of persons or humans. Download it while its hot!