Basic Equality

45 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2008 Last revised: 29 Jul 2009

See all articles by Jeremy Waldron

Jeremy Waldron

New York University School of Law

Date Written: December 5, 2008


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.

Keywords: discrimination, equality, Kant, Locke, Rawls, moral considerability, needs, racism, range properties

Suggested Citation

Waldron, Jeremy, Basic Equality (December 5, 2008). NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 08-61. Available at SSRN: or

Jeremy Waldron (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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