Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Dworkin's Principles of Equality

Explain the four principles of equality. Which one do you find most reasonable and why ?

fundamental equality
social equality
equal treatment for equals
treat equals equally and unequals unequally

I did my best with this one, the kid. The difficulty is that even other philosophers have said Dworkin's thought processes are complicated and subtle. Many of them say it's hard to figure out exactly what he's saying or means. Since I don't have access to your text book I don't know how the author of that text interpreted Dworkin's attitudes. Still, I think this is a reasonable distillation of his thinking that I have found in a variety of sources.

Number one fundamental equality.

Dworkin believes that once a human life begins, it should be allowed to develop its full potential. He feels that this is the most essential equality . We all must have an equal opportunity to fulfill our potentials. Denying an individual the right to become the best individual that he can become, the fullest individual he can be, is to deny this essential right.

This is expressed in the term all men are created equal. We may have different abilities and capacities, but we all have an equal right to use the abilities and capacities we have to the fullest and to develop ourselves to the fullest extent possible.

This is also an issue of practicality. A society which fails to develop all of its individuals to the fullest ability is denying itself the resource of those individuals at their most capable level.
There are many societies today which deny women the right even to an education. This is one of the critical demands of fundamentalist Islamic groups and their terrorist activities. But this means that the intelligence, the talents, all the potential contributions of females are being denied to society. Insights into science, philosophy, mathematics, into all areas of human endeavor will be lost to all of humanity because the potential of these individuals will never reached.

Number two social quality.

Dworkin does acknowledge that it would not be true equality if everyone has exactly the same amount of goods. He acknowledges that there are those who prefer to let others work while they take advantage of others' efforts. He acknowledges that equality does not mean everybody has exactly the same amount of money or social privileges, rather it means that everyone, regardless of their advantages or disadvantages has had an equal opportunity to gain those social resources. Relate this to number one, if we do allow everyone a fair chance to fully develop themselves, some people will choose not to put the effort into doing so. This is their fault and it is a kind of equality for them not to do as well as others. After all, it was their choice not to do so.

Dworkin adds that we cannot ignore the effect that people's own choices have in terms of how they apply the resources available to them. For example, a person might choose to buy a very expensive automobile. This may mean that he has a very poor quality house, or perhaps not enough food. But if he does choose that, then it is his choice. He cannot then expect others to help him have a nicer home because he chose the expensive car.

Number three equal treatment for equals.

Assuming that an individual has the same capacities as another individual, the same inherent talents and skills. Then also assuming that both of them have an equal opportunity, let us say they both attended the same school and had the same socioeconomic background, it follows that they should be treated in the same manner. There is no need to grant special treatment to one or the other because of special disabilities. In fact, special treatment to one or the other would be unfair. They should be treated the same.

Neither one of them should be given special privileges, neither should either then be given special handicaps. Since they are inherently the same in their abilities and in their backgrounds, there is no need for special treatment. It is entirely possible that, due to choices they have made, one of them has become a drug addict and has fallen into the depths of the poorest and most desperate members of society; while the other studied hard and kept himself working so that he is attaining a higher level of economic success than his parents had. While it is obvious the two positions are unequal, the positions are unequal as a direct result of actual choices made by the two individuals. Therefore no injustice has occurred.

The problem with this analysis, is that it is effectively impossible to analyze the full range of equality. Even identical twins may not be equal. Their experiences will have differed in their upbringings and they will be different to a very large extent. In other words, what I'm saying is, can you ever say any two people are truly equal in opportunity?

Maybe one of the two individuals we talked about at the beginning has a genetic disposition to addiction. That is not his fault. Maybe they both tried drugs but the one simply cannot resist because of his genetic makeup. Or perhaps he went to war and came back with posttraumatic stress syndrome.

How can we ever truly say that two people are in fact equals? Certainly we cannot say they are exact equals. Nevertheless, we do need rules in society, and we should do our best to treat equals as equals. This is simply a matter of practicality.

Number four, treat equals equally and unequals unequally.

Dworkins uses the example of a family. The parents should treat all the children equally, for example, giving them the same allowance and sending them to the same quality schools. However, if one of the children is severely handicapped, the parents would be expected, in the interest of equality, to spend more money on that child and see to the handocapped individual goes to a school especially equipped to deal with his or her handicap. In other words, the parents take care of the needs of each child on an equal level. If one child has greater needs, then that child does receive greater resources. Not because that child is favored, but because this is required to meet that child's special and extreme needs.

I would add my own example. In many developing countries, and even in America's past, it has been expected that if a child was particularly bright, a family would dedicate family resources to him or her, aimed at getting that an child excellent education, far superior to that dedicated to the other children. But this is not treating the child unequally. When that child becomes an adult and has graduated from college, that child is then expected to help his brothers sisters and even their children with his access to extra resources. In other words, the child not being favored, but is being given an extra responsibility.

This is because that child had the ability to gain extra resources if the family made extra investment. Having made an extra investment, the family then expects the child to return the investment.

To make this very clear let's go to a very extreme case. Let's say three children are assigned to PE activities in junior high school. The coach looks all three. One is already a gold medalist in the Junior Olympics. The second was barely able to participate in the recent Special Olympics. The third child is an ordinary student of average physical capacity. If the coach gives all three of the same physical training regimen, he is not treating them equally.

The reason is that he is assuming a certain level of capacity either high or low that is inherent in all three boys. That is not a fair assessment. To provide fair treatment for all three is to assess each one; as an individual, as to his current capacity, his ability to perform training exercises, and his potential to grow. Then each one is assigned an individualized plan adjusted to his capacities.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once said, "There's nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals."

Dworkin himself summed up his attitude in a paper responding to another's criticism of his work. I have taken the statement out of context, which was very specific, but I believe it is appropriate to apply it to his wider views. He stated that he believed , "...that people be made equal, so far as this is possible, in their opportunity...".

You'll have to answer the last part of the question which one do you find most reasonable and why?

My answer to that, just in case you are interested, is that you can't do anything without all four of them. It's like asking which part of a car do you like best? Oh, I suppose you could say you like the engine because of the power but you'll have a very poor quality car if you don't have a transmission, wheels, and steering wheel etc. As far as I'm concerned all four concepts are actually necessary to a functioning society.

But if you want to focus on one you might want to focus on the handicapped issue. You've been there, you done that. You know that when everybody just assumed you can do what everybody else can do it's a really tough haul if you can't. However, with some extra consideration you can do and you can succeed. It's just that it's a little harder for you.

The kid with a hearing aid is getting extra help, but it only gives him a chance to be as good as everybody else.

There is a great science-fiction story that really applies to all of this. But I don't suppose it really fits the situation. 

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