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  A moral and political philosophy which calls for equality, or moves in this direction. Equality in this context means the same, in a morally significant respect, as in standard of living or some of its constituent elements like income, wealth or health. The term equality is easily confused with equity, which refers to fairness, reflecting a longstanding link between equality and social justice. Justice is not always associated with equality, but egalitarians tend to favour equality, or a process of equalization, in the absence of any compelling justification to the contrary (e.g. that inequality benefits the worst-off: see Rawls, 1971).

Equality is taken for granted in most parts of the world, in some limited spheres of life such as \'one person, one vote\' and \'equal treatment before the law\'. A minimal formulation of egalitarianism would guarantee certain human rights, associated with national citizenship, leaving inequality in other spheres. A stronger formulation would be that the sameness, or close similarity, of members of humankind justifies equality with respect to a wide range of sources of need satisfaction, on the grounds that all persons have the same basic needs: for food, clothing, shelter, security, and so on. Such an argument might invoke the notion of the equal moral worth of all persons, as ends in themselves entitled to the wherewithal to live a decent human life, which should be upheld universally. The more generous the set of goods or services which should be distributed equally, the less the scope for inequality.

The egalitarian case can also be made without reference to rights, by recognizing the difficulty of finding moral justification for unequal treatment. The accident of birth — to whom, when and where — has a major bearing on individual life chances, yet there are no moral grounds for such an outcome. This is a matter of chance, over which people have no control, like race or gender which should similarly have no bearing on life chances. The inheritance of wealth or social status (like a title or throne) may not be entirely indefensible as a social practice, but it does not follow that the individuals concerned deserve their advantage. The same could be said of natural aptitudes such as physical strength, dexterity or intelligence which, again, can be viewed as the results of a natural lottery. It could also be argued that advantages derived from socialization, such as learning to value education or to become enterprising, carry no greater moral approval than those derived from biology. Thus, occupational differences arising from natural aptitudes or character formation do not justify any inequality in remuneration.

The geographical extension of this argument is that the advantages some persons get from being born somewhere with either bountiful natural resources or a well-developed social and economic environment, are difficult if not impossible to justify morally. Inequality with a spatial expression should therefore be reduced or eliminated. (DMS)

Reference Rawls, J. 1971: A theory of justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Suggested Reading Arneson, R. 1993: Equality. In R.E. Goodin and P. Pettit, eds, A companion to political philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 489-507. Kymlicka, W. 1990: Contemporary political philosophy: an introduction. Oxford: Clarendon Press, ch. 3. Smith, D.M. 1994: Geography and social justice. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 54-8 and ch. 5. Turner, B. 1986: Equality. London: Tavistock.



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