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Does ‘Equal Moral Status’ Add Anything to Right Reason?

19 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2011 Last revised: 1 Aug 2011

Jeremy Waldron

New York University School of Law

Date Written: July 29, 2011

Abstract

This paper explores the possibility that the principle of basic equality might be explicated by reference to the idea that humans constitute a "single-status" community. It explores some difficulties with the idea of status in its original legal habitat. These difficulties include skepticism about status fostered by John Austin and others. The paper attempts to answer this skepticism, and it concludes (along with Jeremy Bentham, who in this respect disagreed with his disciple) that once one takes a dynamic view of a legal system, the idea of legal status is not an eliminable idea. The paper then examines the distinction between what I call "sortal-status" and "condition-status." Sortal status works from the idea that law recognizes different kinds of human being: racist and sexist legal systems are characterized by sortal-status concepts. Condition-status recognizes that persons may get into various scrapes, situations, conditions, and vicissitudes, or pass through certain stages, that are marked by status distinctions. (These include infancy, alienage, felony, bankruptcy, matriage, military service etc.) Once one makes this distinction, then the idea of a single (sortal) status society becomes a promising vehicle for expressing ideas about moral equality.

Keywords: Austin, Bentham, equality, legal system, racial discrimination, sex discrimination, status

Suggested Citation

Waldron, Jeremy, Does ‘Equal Moral Status’ Add Anything to Right Reason? (July 29, 2011). NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-52. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1898689 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1898689

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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