This paper explores the possibility that the principle of basic equality might be explicated by reference to the idea that humans constitute a "single-status" community. It explores some difficulties with the idea of status in its original legal habitat. These difficulties include skepticism about status fostered by John Austin and others. The paper attempts to answer this skepticism, and it concludes (along with Jeremy Bentham, who in this respect disagreed with his disciple) that once one takes a dynamic view of a legal system, the idea of legal status is not an eliminable idea. The paper then examines the distinction between what I call "sortal-status" and "condition-status." Sortal status works from the idea that law recognizes different kinds of human being: racist and sexist legal systems are characterized by sortal-status concepts. Condition-status recognizes that persons may get into various scrapes, situations, conditions, and vicissitudes, or pass through certain stages, that are marked by status distinctions. (These include infancy, alienage, felony, bankruptcy, matriage, military service etc.) Once one makes this distinction, then the idea of a single (sortal) status society becomes a promising vehicle for expressing ideas about moral equality.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Austin, Bentham, equality, legal system, racial discrimination, sex discrimination, status
Waldron, Jeremy, "Does ‘Equal Moral Status’ Add Anything to Right Reason?" (2011). New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers. Paper 292.