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Arguing for Human Equality

  • Patrick McKinley Brennan


There is nothing that I would hold to more dearly in our past than the language of the Declaration of Independence, ‘all men are created equal.’ As Abraham Lincoln argued, this is in an important sense the foundation of our Constitution. The circumstance that the social facts of our world, then and now, are hideously inconsistent with this promise or ideal simply makes it all the more important. Yet upon what does this value of equality rest? Is it self-evident? Certainly not, and one may find oneself in deep trouble trying to rest it upon independent philosophical foundations. As a factual statement, it is obviously not true and cannot be true; as a matter of value no one thinks that we ought to equalize every aspect of life.

So what can it mean?

—James Boyd White, From Expectation to Experience



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1. White, James Boyd, From Expectation to Experience 145146 (U. Mich. Press 1999).

2. Id. at 46.

3. Dworkin, Ronald, Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality 5 (Harv. U. Press 2000).

4. Vining, Joseph, From Newton's Sleep 324 (Princeton U. Press 1995).

5. Id.

6. (Princeton U. Press 1999).

7. Murray, John Courtney, We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition viii (Sheed & Ward 1998).

8. As Murray's more extended analysis itself reveals.

9. The quoted language is of course Jeremy Bentham's classic indictment of natural rights. Bentham, Jeremy, Anarchical Fallacies, in Works vol. 2, 501 (Bowring, J. ed., William Tait 1843).

10. This way of describing women and men who have reformed our public square was first suggested to me by Chapter 9, “Martyrs and Crusaders,” of Noonan, John T. Jr., The Lustre of Our Country: The American Experience of Religious Freedom 241260 (U. Cal. Press 1998).

11. On Jefferson's role in the drafting of this portion of the Declaration of Independence, and on Jefferson's own notions of equality, see Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 3-4 & 94-99.

12. The “American scripture” phrase is from Maier, Pauline, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (Knopf 1997). On the emergence in America of the idea of an existent equality, see id. at 189-208.

13. Campos, Paul, Secular Fundamentalism, in Campos, Paul, Schlag, Pierre, & Smith, Steven, Against the Law 191202 (Duke U. Press 1996).

14. Kahn, Paul, The Reign of Law: Marbury v. Madison and the Construction of America 5758 (Yale U. Press 1998) (“[The modern revolutionary] acts on ‘self-evident’ truths, with little tolerance for reasonable disagreement….”).

15. Williams, Bernard, The Idea of Equality, in Williams, Bernard, Problems of the Self: Philosophical Papers 1956-1972 at 230, 234 (Cambridge U. Press 1973).

16. Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Will to Power 468 (Kaufmann, Walter ed., Kaufmann, Walter & Hollingdale, R.J. trans., Random House 1967).

17. Cf. Weinreb, Lloyd, Natural Law and Justice 167 (Harv. U. Press 1987) (“[O]ur common humanity is an abstraction that becomes concrete in characteristics that are not universal but endlessly various. The individual differences may be unimportant compared with the features that all have in common. If so, that is a conclusion that has to be reached, not a fact one can observe.”).

18. Kahn, supra n. 14, at 86. “What appeared as self-evident truths to the [revolutionary] actor will not appear similarly abstract to memory. Not an idea's quality as abstract but its quality as ‘ours’—our truths—infuses memory.” Id. at 84-85.

19. Vining, Joseph, Legal Identity: The Coming of Age of Public Law 169 (Yale U. Press 1978).

20. Perry, Michael J., The Idea of Human Rights: Four Inquiries 1141 (Oxford U. Press 1998).

21. Murphy, Jeffrie G., Afterword: Constitutionalism, Moral Skepticism, and Religious Belief, in Constitutionalism: The Philosophical Domain 239, 248 (Rosenbaum, Alan S. ed., Greenwood Press 1988).

22. Kateb, George, The Inner Ocean: Individualism and Democratic Culture 82 (Cornell U. Press 1992).

23. The possibility of “optative” description that is not tendentious was suggested to me by Lex Mercatoria and Legal Pluralism: A Late Thirteenth Century Treastise and Its Afterlife 34 (Basile, Mary Elizabethet al. eds., Ames Found. 1998).

24. Smith, P. Christopher, The Hermeneutics of Original Argument: Demonstration, Dialectic, Rhetoric 67 (Northwestern U. Press 1998). I return to the spirit, though not the technical detail, of what Smith means by “rhetorical conviction” at text at infra nns. 111-114, 148-151.

25. See e.g. Maritain, Jacques, Redeeming the Time 1528 (Lowe & Brydone Printers Ltd. 1946) (arguing that a true and important human equality coexists with human difference). Cf. Weinreb, supra n. 17 at 179-180 (discussing Isaiah Berlin's suggestion that “equality itself, ‘the maximum similarity of a body of all but indiscernible human beings,’ is the ideal to be achieved, ‘not merely as an end in itself, but as the end, the principal goal of human life.’”).

26. For a fuller discussion of this analytic point, see Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6 at 11-13.

27. I qualify this claim infra text at p. 114.

28. White, Michael J., Partisan or Neutral? The Futility of Public Political Theory 62 (Rowman & Littlefield 1997).

29. Lakoff, Sanford A., Equality in Political Philosophy 2 (Harv. U. Press 1964) (quoting Address at Springfield, Ill., July 17, 1858, in Created Equal? The Complete Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 at 82 (Angle, Paul M. ed., U. Chi. 1958)).

30. Id. (Quoting Lincoln, Abraham, Equality, in Abraham Lincoln, Mixed Essays 51 (1880)).

31. Jacques Maritain also had firm grasp on this at once analytic and metaphysical point. See Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 36-37.

32. White, supra n. 28, at 52-75.

33. This way of putting the point, indeed the very issue, was suggested to me by the concluding sentence of John Witte's “Foreword” to Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at xxiv: “Have the authors met their burden of proof?”

34. Westen, Peter, Speaking of Equality: An Analysis of the Rhetorical Force of Equality in Moral and Legal Discourse 266267 (Princeton U. Press 1990). Cf. Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 24-26.

35. Michael J. White, supra n. 28, at 62.

36. Anscombe, G.E.M., Modern Moral Philosophy, 33 Philosophy 1 (1958), repr. in Anscombe, G.E.M., Ethics, Religion and Politics vol. 3, 26 (Oxford 1981) (found on <>).

37. Hart, H.L.A., Punishment and Responsibility 38 (Clarendon Press 1995).

38. See e.g. Lisa Sowle Cahill: “The affirmation of human rights also arises out of negative ‘contrast experiences’ (to use a phrase of the theologian Edouard Schillebeeckx) of the gross violation of human dignity and wellbeing, as it did in the 1948 U.N. Declaration on Human Rights.” Rights as Religious or Secular: Why Not Both?, 14 J. L. & Relig. 41, 44 (19992000). On the context-specific history of the development of notions of natural human rights, see for example UNESCO, Human Rights: Comments and Interpretations (A. Wingate 1949); Lauren, Paul Gordon, The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen (U. Pa. 1998), especially 436; Tierney, Brian, The Idea of Natural Rights (Scholars Press 1997).

39. Fortenbaugh, W.W., Aristotle on Slaves and Women, in Articles on Aristotle: Ethics and Politics v. 2, 135, 137 (Barnes, Jonathanet al. eds., St. Martin's Press 1977).

40. Id. at 136.

41. I say “arguably,” because Bernard Williams countenances such an equality and considers it of little importance. See infra text at nns. 60-62.

42. The nub, though by no means the whole of the issue, concerns the fact that while in muchof his ethics Aristotle identifies the good for humans as a (lucky) life dictated by practical wisdom, at least for one famous moment, at the end of his Nicomachean Ethics (X.7), Aristotle holds that the best life for man is the contemplative (rather than the practical) life of reason—agood for man even more elusive than practical reason and life in accord with it. See e.g. Kraut, Richard, Aristotle on the Human Good (Princeton U. Press 1989).

43. Maritain, Jacques, Moral Philosophy 4748 (Charles Scribner's Sons 1964).

44. George, Robert P., Making Men Moral 39 (Oxford U. Press 1995).

45. Intyre, Alasdair Mac, A Short History of Ethics 7879 (Macmillan Co. 1966).

46. Aristotle does, however, have a doctrine of “excuse,” with which he would temper hismoral judgment of those who involuntarily fail to reach eudaemonia. On excuse, see infra at pp. 44, 45.

47. Robinson, Daniel N., Aristotle's Psychology 101 (Columbia U. Press 1989). Kraut, supra n. 42, at 106 (“The natural slave is deficient as a practical reasoner; by accepting the direction ofsomeone who is practically wise, he will lead the best life he can achieve, though it will not be a happy life.”).

48. Carlyle, R.W. & Carlyle, A.J., A History of Mediaeval Political Theory in the West vol. 1, 7 (Barnes & Noble 1950).

49. Id. at 45.

50. Id. at 8.0

51. See Porter, Jean, Natural and Divine Law 296 n. 23 (Wm. B. Eerdmans 1999). Cf. Ullman, Walter, The Individual and Society in the Middle Ages 138 nn. 76 & 77 (John Hopkins Press 1966).

52. Cicero, , Laws, I.X 2830

[S]ed omnium, quae in hominum doclorum disputatione versantur, nihil est profecto praestabilius quam plane intellegi nos ad iustitiam esse natos, neque opinione, set natura constitutum esse ius. id iam patebit, si hominum inter ipsos societatem coniunctionemque perspexeris. nihil est enim unum uni tam simile, tarn par, quam omnes inter nosmet ipsos sumus. quodsi depravatio consuetudinum, si opinionum vanitas non imbecillitatem animorum torqueret et flecteret quocumque coepisset, sui nemo ipse tam similis esset quam omnes essent omnium, itaque, quaecumque est hominis definitio, una in omnis valet; quod argumenti satis est nullam dissimilitudincm esse in genere; quae si esset, non una omnis definitio contineret; etenim ratio, qua una praestamus belius, per quam coniectura valemus, argumentamur, refellimus, disserimus, conficimus aliquid, concludimus, certe est communis, doctrina differens, discendi quidem facilitate par.

(translated in Cicero in Twenty-eight Volumes 328, 331 (Keyes, Clinton Walker trans., Harv. U. Press 1928)).

53. See Fortenbaugh, supra n. 39, at 137.

54. Cicero, supra n. 52, at I.XII.34 (“quid enim est, quod differat, cum sint cunta paria?”).

55. Carlyle, supra n. 48, at 8 (emphasis added).

56. Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice 508 (Harv. U. Press 1971).

57. Id. at 505. For Rawls's later elaboration and embellishment of this concept, see Rawls, John, Political Liberalism 19, 79, 81, 109 (Columbia U. Press 1993). See McKinley, PatrickBrennan, Political Liberalism's Tertium Quiddity: Neutral “Public Reason,” 43 Am. J. of Juris. 239, 241243 (1998) (review essay).

58. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, supra n. 56, at 507, 508.

59. Rawls, Political Liberalism, supra n. 57, at 19. The point of my analysis is unaffected bythe fact that in Political Liberalism Rawls identifies not one but two capacities, the possession of which to the requisite minimum degree, “makes persons equal.”

60. But see e.g. Williams, supra n. 15, at 230-234.

61. I leave aside here the apparently problematic case of the incarnation.

62. On this interpretation [of the idea of equality], we should not seek for some special characteristics in respect of which men are equal, but merely remind ourselves that they are all men. Now to this it might be objected that being men is not a respect in which men can strictly speaking be said to be equal; but, leaving that aside, there is the more immediate objection that if all that the statement does is to remind us that men are men, it does not do very much, and in particular does less than its proponents in political argument have wanted it to do. What seemed like a paradox has turned into a platitude. Williams, supra n. 15, at 230. But see id. at 232-234.

63. Adler, Mortimer, Six Great Ideas: Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Liberty, Equality, Justice 164 (Macmillan Publg. Co. 1981).

64. Id. at 165.

65. The phrase is from Lonergan, Bernard, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding 619620 (Phil. Lib. 1958):

The difference between essential freedom and effective freedom is the difference between a dynamic structure and its operational range. Man is free essentially inasmuch as possible courses of action are grasped by practical insight, motivated by reflection, and executed by decision. But man is free effectively to a greater or less extent inasmuch as this dynamic structure is open to grasping, motivating, and executing a broad or a narrow range of otherwise possible courses of action. Thus, one may be essentially but not effectively free to give up smoking.

For an account of Lonergan's stance with respect to equality as I pursue it here, see Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 136-141, and Coons, John E. & Brennan, Patrick M., Created Equal: Lonergan Explains Jefferson, in Lonergan Workshop vol. 12, 4576 (Lawrence, Fred ed., Boston College 1995).

66. Adler, supra n. 63, at 165.

67. See Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 22-38, especially at 36.

68. White, supra n. 28, at 65.

69. Id. at 9. The specific context of this observation by Michael White is the more general one of the nature of the political liberal's efforts to justify political compromise. But as White later makes clear (id. at 62-75), the postulation of an equality among humans is among the fundamentals by which political liberals attempt this.

70. Murphy, supra, n. 21, at 248.

71. Williams, Bernard, The Idea of Equality, in Moral Concepts 153, 157158 (Feinberg, Joel ed., Oxford U. Press 1970.

72. Reck, Andrew, The Metaphysics of Equality, 34 The New Scholasticism 327, 339 (1960).

73. Williams, supra n. 15, at 237.

74. Brecht, Arnold, Political Theory: The Foundations of Twentieth-Century Political Thought 309311 (Princeton U. Press 1959).

75. In the following discussion of Kant I borrow from the analysis of Kant in Coons's and my book By Nature Equal, supra n. 6, at 116-122, but aspects of the present analysis may depart from Coons's judgment of Kant's meaning and its significance for understanding the reality of human equality.

76. See Murphy, Jeffrie G., Involuntary Acts and Criminal Liability, 81 Ethics 332 (1971) (discussing the range of ways in which human acts “misfire,” becoming at some point not human acts at all).

77. Sullivan, Roger J., Immanuel Kant's Moral Theory 184 (Cambridge U. Press 1991) (first published 1989).

78. Kant, Immanuel, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals 10 (Beck, Lewis White trans., Bobbs-Merill Co., Inc. 1959) (emphasis supplied).

79. Id. at 84.

80. Kant, Immanuel, Critque of Practical Reason 85 (Beck, L.W. trans., Bobbs-Merrill 1956).

81. Id. at 97

82. Sullivan, supra n. 77, at 47.

83. Not only humans, but practically anything at all, can be thought about as both a phenomenon and as a noumenon. I am grateful to Robert Miller for reminding me of this.

84. Kant, supra n. 78, at 125.

85. Id. at 125.

86. Kant, Immanuel, The Metaphysics of Morals 186 (Cambridge U. Press l996).

87. Adkins, Arthur W.H., Merit and Responsibility: A Study in Greek Values 2 (Oxford U. Press 1960).

88. Sullivan, supra n. 77, at xiii.

89. Kolakowski, Leszek, Modernity on Endless Trial 4454 (U. Chi. Press 1990).

90. Sullivan, supra, n. 77, at 197. The inserted portion is from Kant, supra n. 78, at 96.

91. Williams, Bernard, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy 65 (Harv. U. Press 1985).

92. Bernard Williams, Morality and the Emotions, in Problems of the Self supra n. 15, at 207, 228.

93. Id.

94. Id.

95. Id.

96. Williams, Bernard, Postscript, in Moral Luck 251 (Statman, Daniel ed., S.U.N.Y. Press 1993).

97. Nussbaum, Martha, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy 5 (Cambridge U. Press 1986).

98. Thomas Nagel, Moral Luck, in Moral Luck, supra n. 96, at 57, 66.

99. Nussbaum, supra n. 97, at 5.

100. Nagel, supra n. 98, at 67.

101. Williams, supra n. 15, at 36.

102. Sullivan, supra n. 77, at 297 n. 9. See id. at 4-5 (“Kant frequently wrote that the ultimate data for his analysis of the nature of morality were drawn from the moral thinking of ordinary people….”).

103. Id. at 297, n. 9.

104. Beck, Lewis White, Early German Philosophy: Kant and Predecessors 158 (Belknap Press 1969).

105. See Sullivan, supra n. 77, at 6.

106. Williams, supra n. 15, at 228.

107. Williams, supra n. 15, at 235.

108. Troeltsch, Ernst, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches 7475 (Wyon, Olive trans., Harper & Row 1960).

109. Williams, supra n. 15, at 195.

110. Id. at 195 (“there is no calculable road from moral effort to salvation”).

111. Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 164-190.

112. Kant, supra n. 80, at 134 n.

113. Kant's semi-Pelagianism is clearest and most extensive in his Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (Greene, T. & Hudson, H. trans., Open Court 1960). For example: “Man himself must make or have made himself into whatever, in a moral sense, whether good or evil, he is or is to become.” Id. at 40.

114. Williams, supra n. 15, at 224 n. 20 (“This is why I said … that Kant's conception was like that of the Pelagian heresy, which did adjust salvation to merit”). The Kantian position is put into theological and ethical context in Hare, John E., The Moral Gap: Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and God's Assistance (Clarendon Press 1997).

115. It was Augustine's contemporaries, known to a later generation as “semi-Pelagians,” who objected to the notion that “by God's predestination men are compelled to sin and driven to death by a sort of fatal necessity.” Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 166 (quoting Prosper of Aquitaine). On Pelagius's own theological development, see Rees, B.R., Pelagius: Reluctant Heretic (Boydell 1988).

116. Taylor, Charles, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity 5859 (Harv. U. Press 1989).

117. Williams, Problems of the Self, supra n. 15, at 234.

118. Murphy, supra n. 21, at 248.

119. Weinreb, supra n. 17, at 94.

120. Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at xxiii. See Witte, John Jr., Law and Protestantism: The Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation ch. 3 & “Conclusion” (Cambridge U. Press 2002).

121. See e.g. Lisska, Anthony, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law: An Analytic Reconstruction 812 (Clarendon Press 1996) (noting the re-emergence of natural law, and of Thomistic natural law particularly). As examples, see George, Robert P., In Defense of Natural Law (Oxford U. Press 1999); Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality (George, Robert P. ed., Oxford U. Press 1996); Porter, Jean, Natural Law & Divine Law: Reclaiming the Tradition for Christian Ethics (Wm. B. Eerdsman Publg. 1999).

122. Finnis, John, Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory 240, 188 (Oxford U. Press 1998).

123. Id. at 117.

124. Id. at 170 (citing Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 104a. 5c). Finnis continues: “‘Free’ here refers both to the radical capacity for free choices, in which one is master of oneself, and to one's freedom from any justified domination by other human persons; to be free is to be—unlike a slave—an end in oneself.” Id. (citations omitted).

125. Id. at 240. The square brackets and their contents are Finnis's.

126. Finnis's emphasis deleted; mine added.

127. Porter, Jean, The Subversion of Virtue: Acquired and Infused Virtues in the Summa Theologiae, in The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics 22 (Beckley, Harlan ed., The Socy. 1992).

128. Id. at 28.

129. Id. at 32.

130. The passage reads:

Ad primum ergo dicendum quod cura divina dupliciter considerari potest. Uno modo, quantum ad ipsum divinum actum, qui est simplex et uniformis. Et secundum hoc, aequaliter se habet eius cura ad onines: quia scilicet uno actu et simplici et maiora et minora dispensat.—Alio modo potest considerari ex parte eorum quae in creaturis ex divina cura proveniunt. Et secundum hoc invenitur inaequalitatis: inquantum scilicet Deus sua cura quibusdam maiora, quibusdam minora providet dona.

Aquinas, Thomas, Summa theologiae I-II q.112 a.4 ad1 (Brennan, Patrick trans., edizioni San Paolo 1999).

131. “Sed Sap. 6, [8] dicitur: ‘Pusillum et magnum ipse fecit, et aequaliter est illi cura de omnibus.’ Ergo omnes aequaliter gratiam ab eo consequuntur.” Id. at q. 112 a.4 1.

132. Aquinas, , Summa Contra Gentiles III. 120 (Leoninae, ed., Desclée & c. 1934).

(Deus enim, quantum in se est, paratus est omnibus gratiam dare, vult enim omnes homines salvos fieri, et ad cognitionem veritatis venire, ut dicitur I ad Tim. II: sed illi soli gratia privantur qui in seipsis gratiae impedimentum praestant; sicut sole mundum illuminante, in culpam imputatur ei qui oculos claudit, si ex hoc aliquod malum sequatur, licet videre non possit nisi lumine solis praeveniatur.).

I am grateful to Robert Miller for redirecting my attention to this passage.

133. Id. at III.421

Et sicut non omnes caecos illuminat, nee omnes languidos sanat, ut et in illis quos curat, opus virtutis eius appareat, et in aliis ordo naturae servetur; ita non omnes qui gratiam impediunt, auxilio suo praevenit ut avertantur a malo et convertantur ad bonum, sed aliquos, in quibus vult suam misericordiam apparere, ita quod in aliis iustitiae ordo manifestetur.

134. Aquinas, supra n. 130, at I q.23 a.5 ad3

Neque tamen propter hoc est iniquitas apud Deum, si inaequalia non inaequalibus praeparat. Hoc enim esset contra iustitiae rationem, si praedestinationis effectus ex debito redderetur, et non daretur ex gratia. In his enim quae ex gratia dantur, potest aliquis pro libito suo dare cui vult, plus vel minus, dummodo nulli subtrahat debitum, absque praeiudicio iustitiae.

135. Finnis, supra n. 22, at 331 (citations omitted). Finnis cites Aquinas's Summa Theologiae after “for any of us,” but the passage referred to (I-II q. 65 a. 5c), though it affirms that man's communion with God can begin in this life, says nothing to contradict, or even to draw into question, Aquinas's careful argument earlier in the same text that some are predestined by God to damnation. Grace does makes a minor—but not apparently relevant—appearance in a footnote two pages earlier. Id. at 329 n. 153.

136. For an example of this critique, see Hittinger, Russell, A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory (U. Notre Dame Press 1987); see James Boyd White, supra n. 1, at 112-142.

137. Stackhouse, Max, Reflections on “Universal Absolutes,” 14 J. L. & Relig. 97, 109 n. 18 (19992000).

138. My own judgment is that equality, in the sense at issue in this Essay, is at best hard to find in Aquinas, and is affirmed if at all thanks to the supernatural activity of God; a less-strained reading of Aquinas leads to the conclusion that he denies such an equality, notwithstanding plenty of little assertions of equality in other senses. See Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 140-142, 167-168, 195-201, and texts cited therein. See Bowlin, John, Contingency and Fortune in Aquinas's Ethics (Cambridge U. Press 1999) (clarifying the place of luck in Aquinas's theory of the virtues and the relevance of Aquinas's supernatural context).

139. Eric d'Arcy catches this glitch in Aquinas's account in his Conscience and Its Right to Freedom 113141 (Sheed & Ward 1961). See Keenan, James, Goodness and Rightness in Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae (Georgetown U. Press 1992) (arguing that Aquinas's moral economy values only correct conduct, not humans' best efforts that miss that mark).

140. In defense of such omission, see Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 301 n. 69.

141. Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 202-208. Pursuing the same issue and trend, Jean Porter, supra n. 127, at 39 n. 18, cites de Lubac, Henri, The Mystery of the Supernatural (Herder & Herder 1967) and Rahner, Karl, Foundations of Christian Faith (Crossroad 1985). Also important is Lonergan, Bernard, Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas (Herder & Herder 1971).

142. 1 Tim 2:4. For a study of this text and its implications, see von Balthasar, Hans Urs, Dare We Hope that ‘All Men be Saved’? (Ignatius Press 1988). See also Burtchaell, James Tunstead, Philemon's Problem: A Theology of Grace 88101 (W.B. Eerdman's Publg. Co. 1998) (discussing the shifting theological position on the salvation of non-Christians).

143. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 16, in Vatican Counsel II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents 350, 367 (Paul, St. Eds, Flannery, Austin ed., Daughters of St. Paul 1975).

144. Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1934 (Geoffrey Chapman 1999) (emphasis added).

145. Id.

146. See Lakoff, Sanford, Christianity and Equality, in Equality 115133 (Pennock, J. Roland & Chapman, John W. eds., Atherton Press 1967) (canvassing a range of “Christian” stances on equality); Lakoff, supra n. 29, at 1-59 (1964) (same).

147. See Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 191-214.

148. On “the best and the brightest,” see id. at 78, 232-243. The snobbery issue is connected to Kant and to dignity in Hill, Thomas J., Social Snobbery and Human Dignity, in Autonomy and Self-Respect 155 (Cambridge U. Press 1992).

149. Charles Taylor observes that the gradually broader affirmation of and emphasis on what is universal among humans are heard as humans find ways to give philosophical expression to a deep and prior instinct about human sameness that transcends boundaries and local difference. See Taylor, supra n. 116, at 3-5. Taylor notes specifically that those “left outside” by anti-universalist accounts are said on those accounts “to lack souls, or to be not fully rational, or to be destined by God for some lower station, or something of the sort.” Id. at 5.

150. Stout, Jeffrey, Ethics After Babel: The Languages of Morals and Their Discontents 294 (Cambridge U. Press 1990). “The ‘sad little joke’ about universal languages, Mary Midgley once said, is that almost nobody speaks them.” Id. at 166.

151. See Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 36-37, 136-141, 207-209.

152. James Boyd White, supra n. 1, at 146, n. 22.

153. Coons & Brennan, supra n. 6, at 261, n. 1, Introduction.

154. For a pithy statement of the view at the time of the revolution, see Wood, Gordon, The Radicalism of the American Revolution 229243, especially 237 (Knopf 1992).

155. James Boyd White, supra n. 1, at 146.

156. Perry, Michael J., The Idea of Human Rights 341 (Oxford U. Press 1998).

157. On the risk of nonsense in our political discourse, see Steven Smith, Nonsense and Natural Law, in Steven Smith, Paul Campos, & Pierre Schlag, supra n. 13, at 100-115.

158. James Boyd White, supra n. 1, at 147. See Kateb, supra n. 22, at 8 (“The sentiment of equal human dignity must be widely shared, not felt only by the observer, if rights are to be sustained against the state …”).

159. Stout, supra n. 150, at 292. See Lisa Sowle Cahill, supra n. 38, at 41-52 (arguing the importance of an “intercultural, interreligious” defense of such concepts as human rights and human equality).

In a marvelous essay that came to my attention (thanks to Michael Perry and Steve Smith) only as I was nearing completion of this essay, Louis Pojman reaches a conclusion close to my own:

My point has not been to defend religion. For purposes of this paper I am neutral on the question of whether any religion is true. Rather my purpose is to show that we cannot burn our bridges and still drive Mack trucks over them. But, if we cannot return to religion, then it would seem perhaps we should abandon egalitarianism and devise political philosophies that reflect naturalistic assumptions, theories which are forthright in viewing humans as differentially talented animals who must get on together.

Pojman, Louis, On Equal Human Worth: A Critique of Contemporary Egalitarianism, in Equality: Selected Readings 296 (Pojman, L. & Westmoreland, R. eds., Oxford U. Press 1997). Pojman's deconstruction of ten leading ways of securing “equal human worth” on the cheap is a tour de force. I also find persuasive Pojman's argument that in some vague but profound way the Judeo-Christian tradition weighs in favor of equal human worth, but I would emphasize more than he has the Judeo-Christian obstacles as well, obstacles of the sort I have flagged here and developed at length in By Nature Equal.

160. “[U]ltimate issues rest on ultimate options, and ultimate options are existential. By them men and women deliberately decide—when they do not inadvertently drift into—the kind of men and women they are to be.” Lonergan, Bernard, Method: Trend and Variations, in A Third Collection 13, 21 (Crowe, F. ed., Paulist Press 1985). The notions of history and tradition and language, and the human subject's place in mediating them, on which I have relied implicitly here, are drawn largely from Bernard Lonergan.

Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs & Research, College of Law, Arizona State University. For comments and questions that helped me clarify issues left unresolved in my earlier work on equality, I am grateful to members of five audiences with whom I have shared these ideas over the last year or so: a colloquium at the School of Jurisprudence and Social Policy, Boalt Hall, University of California Berkeley in September 2000 (particularly Sandy Kadish, Jim Gordley, and Meir Dan-Cohen); a meeting of the Law, Culture and the Humanities Association at the University of Texas, Austin in March 2001; a faculty development colloquium at the Widener School of Law, Wilmington, Delaware, in April 2001 (particularly Brian Foley and Robert Lipkin); a colloquium with the law and history faculties of Syracuse University in April 2001 (particularly Ken Pennington); a colloquium with the Boston College Law School faculty in April 2001 (particularly Sharon Beckman, Scott FitzGibbon, Phyllis Goldfarb, Frank Herrmann, Ray Madoff, and Fred Yen). Jim Knapp provided helpful comments on an early draft. Michael Perry, Steve Smith, Steve Garvey, Jack Coons, Jeff Murphy, and Jean Porter provided generous help of different kinds, for which I am most grateful. Much of this Essay was written while I was Visiting Professor in the Boston College Law School, where Dean John Garvey provided generous support and warm encouragement of my work; it is a pleasure to record here my gratitude to him, and to those of his faculty who spent so much time talking equality with me. It is equally a pleasure to thank my Dean in Arizona, Trish White; her support and encouragement have been unstinting and impressive, and once again she is likely to agree with hardly a word of what I have written. My greatest debt of gratitude, finally, runs to Jack Coons, who first let me think about these things.

Arguing for Human Equality

  • Patrick McKinley Brennan


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