Friday, December 15, 2017
Over at Commonweal, Prof. Samuel Moyn has a review of Jeremy Waldron's One Another's Equals: The Basis of Human Equality. I'm not as sanguine as Prof. Moyn seems to be that (his concluding sentence) "[w]e can even resolve to fight harder for that equality without denying that our ancestors would have railed against it, or worrying that only God can guarantee our beliefs that all humans are both equal and equally special." That is, I do think we should "worry" -- and I do -- that "only God" can provide a firm basis for the kind of moral-equality claims that we want to, and should, make. After all -- as Moyn notes Waldron insists -- that human persons are moral equals is a "truth to endorse" and not merely a "decision to make."
The importance of what he calls a “range property” grounding equality, Waldron contends, is that it allows us to reject the view that any trait that comes in various forms cannot do the work. For example, religious thinkers have claimed that only a “transcendent” feature that everyone has in precisely the same way—for example, if each was equally made in God’s image—could serve to justify their equal standing. Waldron shows this is not so. It is enough that human capacities come within a given range to entitle people to regard themselves as one another’s equals. (As Waldron goes on to acknowledge, this very argument makes it difficult to grant the equality of the profoundly disabled.)
To me, though, the fact that a "range property" like a particular "capacity" cannot provide a ground for the "equality of the profoundly disabled" counts against this range-property-based argument. So, as Moyn says, perhaps "the fact that [Waldron makes the secular case for equality so difficult to make out almost inevitably points him in a religious direction. He goes so far as to suggest there are 'possible grounds we might have for thinking that a religious foundation for basic human equality is necessary.'” Indeed, I think.