New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



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.

Date of Authorship for this Version

December 2008

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