“The idea of equality”- Bernard Williams
Bernard Williams’s paper discusses the idea of equality. He explains that this idea is in-
cluded in the political discussion under two forms:
-statements of fact: men are equal.
-statements of political principles or aims: men should be equal.
Men are in fact equal but they are not treated equally.
According to Williams, the idea of equality of men as generally perceived is false and
naive since men are not equal in their abilities and skills. They are however equal by the
fact that they are men. Humanity makes them equal.
---> How are men alike?
1. Common equality: The fact that men are equal just because they’re men despite their
differences is not trivial but insufficient. There are other common things such as the ca-
pacity to express feelings and emotions that we should take into account.
However, these characteristics and moral claims can be neglected by ruling groups in
certain societies because the group might be distinguished based on other characteris-
tics than feelings/emotions.--> different treatment.
On moral philosophy: subjective/evaluative issue.
Treating someone differently with the excuse of that being your moral principle is not a
relevant justification. (ex.: “But they’re black: and it is my moral principle to treat black
men differently from others.”)
Less easily definable characteristic of men: the desire for self-respect, the desire to be
identified with what one is doing, realize own purposes, not to be the instrument of a
role appointed by society. (more details in the part about respect)
2. Moral capacities: Moral quality and the achievement of the highest kind of moral
However, moral capacities are different depending on each person (intelligence, ca-
pacity for sympathetic understanding...)
There’s this theory that argues that the achievement of the highest kind of moral worth
should depend on natural capacities (as unequally as they are.) Arguing observation:
natural capacities are capable of vice and virtue, moral worth cannot based on it. “The idea of equality”- Bernard Williams
Kant’s views on moral worth: moral worth cannot depend on contingencies. Also, men
are equally rational moral agents just by the fact that they have the capacity to will freely
(which is not based on any natural capacities-contingencies.) Men’s capacity of free will
earn them respect.
Problem with this notion (according to Bernard Williams): to be treated equally as moral
agents implies the fact of being held equally responsible over action. However, when
men are not treated equally responsible (which is often the case), equality as moral
agents becomes irrelevant. And if this notion becomes irrelevant, the idea of respect
vanishes as well.
On the notion of respect: Two point of view->
-technical perspective: in professional relations, in the world of work. Men are given ti-
tles (“laborers”, “miners”...) and their activities are exposed to criticism. (a man trying to
invent a machine that doesn’t end up working is considered as a failed inventor.)
-Human point of view: point of view which is concerned with what one’s actions mean to
them. (under this point of view, we are not concerned by the the failed inventor, but by
the man who wanted to become a successful inventor.)
A man who has a title, not a man only defined by his title (as the technical point of view
Kant then argues that men should