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A pro-marriage equality rally in San Francisco, US
A pro-marriage equality rally in San Francisco, US

Social equality is a state of affairs in which all individuals within a specific society have equal rights, liberties, and status, possibly including civil rights, freedom of expression, autonomy, and equal access to certain public goods and social services. Social equality requires the absence of legally enforced social class or caste boundaries and the absence of discrimination motivated by an inalienable part of an individual's identity.[1] For example, advocates of social equality believe in equality before the law for all individuals regardless of sex, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, origin, caste or class, income or property, language, religion, convictions, opinions, health, disability or species.[2][3] Social equality is related to equal opportunity.

Difficulty of definition

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Polysemic and protean concept

At first, according to the distinction made by Aristotle, equality[4] consists of the distinction just between parts relative to a criterion (proportional equality) or pure mathematical equality.

But the multiplicity of objects (individuals and situations) where this applies makes the concept of "social equality" as diversified and multiform as the objects concerned. Despite the impossibility of a simple theoretical definition, the concept has more-and-more found its pertinence in a pragmatic evaluation to be conducted along different axes:

Historical examples

Illustrating the combat fought in favor of this application on many fronts are the following episodes:


The standard of equality that states everyone is created equal at birth is called ontological equality. This type of equality can be seen in many different places like the United States Declaration of Independence. This early document, which states many of the values of the United States of America, has this idea of equality embedded in it. It says "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights". The statement reflects the philosophy of John Locke and his idea that all are equal in terms of certain natural rights. Although this standard of equality is seen in documents as important as the Declaration of Independence, it is "one not often invoked in policy debates these days".[6] However this notion of equality is often used to justify inequalities such as material inequality. Dalton Conley claims that ontological equality is used to justify material inequality by putting a spotlight on the fact, legitimated by theology, that "the distribution of power and resources here on earth does not matter because all of us are equally children of God and will have to face our maker upon dying". Dalton Conley, the author of You May Ask Yourself, claims that ontological equality can also be used to put forth the notion that poverty is a virtue. Luciano Floridi, author of a book about information, wrote about what he calls the ontological equality principle. His work on information ethics raises the importance of equality when presenting the information.[citation needed]


Main article: Equality of opportunity

Another standard of equality is equality of opportunity, "the idea that everyone has an equal chance to achieve wealth, social prestige, and power because the rules of the game, so to speak, are the same for everyone".[6] This concept can be applied to society by saying that no one has a head start. This means that, for any social equality issue dealing with wealth, social prestige, power, or any of that sort, the equality of opportunity standard can defend the idea that everyone had the same start. This views society almost as a game and any of the differences in equality standards are due to luck and playing the "game" to one's best ability. Conley gives an example of this standard of equality by using a game of Monopoly to describe society. He claims that "Monopoly follows the rules of equality of opportunity" by explaining that everyone had an equal chance when starting the game and any differences were a result of the luck of the dice roll and the skill of the player to make choices to benefit their wealth. Comparing this example to society, the standard of equality of opportunity eliminates inequality because the rules of the games in society are still fair and the same for all, therefore making any existing inequalities in society fair.[citation needed]

Lesley A. Jacobs, the author of Pursuing Equal Opportunities: The Theory and Practice of Egalitarian Justice, talks about equality of opportunity and its importance relating to egalitarian justice. Jacobs states that: at the core of equality of opportunity... is the concept that in competitive procedures designed for the allocation of scarce resources and the distribution of the benefits and burdens of social life, those procedures should be governed by criteria that are relevant to the particular goods at stake in the competition and not by irrelevant considerations such as race, religion, class, gender, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or other factors that may hinder some of the competitors’ opportunities at success. (Jacobs, 10).

This concept points out factors like race, gender, class, etc. that should not be considered when talking about equality through this notion. Conley also mentions that this standard of equality is at the heart of a bourgeois society, such as a modern capitalist society, or "a society of commerce in which the maximization of profit is the primary business incentive".[6] It was the equal opportunity ideology that civil rights activists adopted in the era of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. This ideology was used by them to argue that Jim Crow laws were incompatible with the standard of equality of opportunity.


Main article: Leveling mechanism

Another notion of equality introduced by Conley is equality of condition. Through this framework is the idea that everyone should have an equal starting point. Conley goes back to his example of a game of Monopoly to explain this standard. If the game of four started off with two players both having an advantage of $5,000 to start off with and both already owning hotels and other property while the other two players both did not own any property and both started off with a $5,000 deficit, then from a perspective of the standard of equality of condition, one can argue that the rules of the game "need to be altered in order to compensate for inequalities in the relative starting positions".[6] From this we form policies in order to even equality which in result bring an efficient way to create fairer competition in society. Here is where social engineering comes into play where we change society in order to give an equality of condition to everyone based on race, gender, class, religion, etc. when it is made justifiable that the proponents of the society make it unfair for them.

Sharon E. Kahn, the author of Academic Freedom and the Inclusive University, talks about equality of condition in their work as well and how it correlates to freedom of individuals. They claim that in order to have individual freedom there needs to be equality of condition "which requires much more than the elimination of legal barriers: it requires the creation of a level playing field that eliminates structural barriers to opportunity".[7] Her work talks about the academic structure and its problem with equalities and claims that to "ensure equity... we need to recognize that the university structure and its organizational culture have traditionally privileged some and marginalized other; we need to go beyond theoretical concepts of equality by eliminating systemic barriers that hinder the equal participation of members of all groups; we need to create and equality of condition, not merely an equality of opportunity".[7] "Notions of equity, diversity, and inclusiveness begin with a set of premises about individualism, freedom and rights that take as given the existence of deeply rooted inequalities in social structure," therefore in order to have a culture of the inclusive university, it would have to "be based on values of equity; that is, equality of condition" eliminating all systemic barriers that go against equality.[7]


Main article: Equality of outcome

The fourth standard of equality is equality of outcome, which is "a position that argues each player must end up with the same amount regardless of the fairness".[6] In this standard of equality, the idea is that "everyone contributes to society and to the economy according to what they do best".[6] Under this notion of equality, Conley states that "nobody will earn more power, prestige, and wealth by working harder". Equality of outcome is often falsely conflated with communism or Marxist philosophy despite the fact that these ideologies clearly promote the distribution of resources on the basis of need or contribution (depending on the level of development of a society's productive forces) rather than equality. Vladimir Lenin stated that the "abolition of classes means placing all citizens on an equal footing with regard to the means of production belonging to society as a whole. It means giving all citizens equal opportunities of working on the publicly-owned means of production, on the publicly-owned land, at the publicly-owned factories, and so forth".[8]

When defining equality of outcome in education, "the goals should not be the liberal one of equality of access but equality of outcome for the median number of each identifiable non-educationally defined group, i.e. the average women, negro, or proletarian or rural dweller should have the same level of educational attainment as the average male, white, suburbanite".[9] The outcome and the benefits from equality from education from this notion of equality promotes that all should have the same outcomes and benefits regardless of race, gender, religion etc. The equality of outcome in Hewitt's point of view is supposed to result in "a comparable range of achievements between a specific disadvantaged group – such as an ethnic minority, women, lone parents and the disabled – and society as a whole".[9]

Information ethics is impartial and universal because it brings to ultimate completion the process of enlargement of the concept of what may count as a center of a (no matter how minimal) moral claim, which now includes every instance of being understood informationally, no matter whether physically implemented or not. In this respect, information ethics holds that every entity as an expression of being, has a dignity constituted by its mode of existence and essence (the collection of all the elementary properties that constitute it for what it is), which deserve to be respected (at least in a minimal and overridable sense), and hence place moral claims on the interacting agent and ought to contribute to the constraint and guidance of his ethical decisions and behavior.[10] Floridi goes on to claim that this "ontological equality principle means that any form of reality (any instance of information/being), simply for the fact of being what it is, enjoys a minimal, initial, overridable, equal right to exist and develop in a way which is appropriate to its nature."[10] Values in his claims correlate to those shown in the sociological textbook You May Ask Yourself by Dalton Conley. The notion of "ontological equality" describes equality by saying everything is equal by nature. Everyone is created equal at birth. Everything has an equal right to exist and develop by its nature.[6]


  1. ^ Blackford, Russell (20 July 2006), "Genetic enhancement and the point of social equality", Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
  2. ^ Gosepath, Stefan (2021), "Equality", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2021 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 6 July 2021
  3. ^ Gruen, Lori (2021), "The Moral Status of Animals", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2021 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 6 July 2021
  4. ^ "Definition of EQUALITY". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  5. ^ Laurent Davezies, « La crise qui vient ou la nouvelle fracture territoriale, Le Seuil, Oct 2012, Paris »[full citation needed]
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Conley, Dalton (2013), You May Ask Yourself (3rd ed.), New York: W. W. Norton & Company
  7. ^ a b c Kahn, Sharon (2000), Academic Freedom and the Inclusive University, Vancouver: CAN: UBC Press, ISBN 9780774808088
  8. ^ "Lenin: A Liberal Professor on Equality". Retrieved 2022-07-06.
  9. ^ a b Hewitt, Martin (2000), Welfare & Human Nature: The Human Subject in Twentieth-Century Social Politics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan
  10. ^ a b Floridi, Luciano (2010), Very Short Introductions : Information: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford

Further reading

  • Arnold, Mathew (18759). "Equality." In: Mixed Essays. New York: Macmillan & Co., pp. 48–97.
  • Bell, Daniel (1972), "On meritocracy and equality" (PDF), The Public Interest, vol. 29, pp. 29–68
  • Bryce, James (1898). "Equality," The Century; A Popular Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 3, pp. 459–469.
  • Dreikurs, Rudolf (1983). Social Equality; The Challenge of Today. Chicago, IL: Alfred Adler Institute of Chicago.
  • Gil, David G. (1976). The Challenge of Social Equality. Cambridge: Schenkman Pub. Co.
  • Hyneman, Charles S. (1980). "Equality: Elusive Ideal or Beguiling Delusion?," The Modern Age, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, pp. 226–237.
  • Jackman, Robert W. (1975). Politics and Social Equality. New York: Wiley.
  • Lane, Robert E. (1959). "The Fear of Equality," The American Political Science Review, Vol. 53, No. 1, pp. 35–51.
  • Lucas, J.R. (1965). "Against Equality," Philosophy, Vol. 40, pp. 296–307.
  • Lucas, J.R. (1977). "Against Equality Again," Philosophy, Vol. 52, pp. 255–280.
  • Mallock, William H. (1882). Social Equality: A Short Study in a Missing Science. London: Richard Bentley and Son.
  • Merwin, Henry Childs (1897). "The American Notion of Equality," The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 80, pp. 354–363.
  • Nagel, Thomas (1978). "The Justification of Equality," Crítica: Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Vol. 10, No. 28, pp. 3–31.
  • Nisbet, Robert (1974), "The Pursuit of Equality" (PDF), The Public Interest, vol. 35, pp. 103–120
  • Piketty, Thomas (2022). A Brief History of Equality. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674273559.
  • Rothbard, Murray N. (1995). "Egalitarianism and the Elites," The Review of Austrian Economics, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 39–57.
  • Rougier, Louis (1974). "Philosophical Origins of the Idea of Natural Equality," The Modern Age, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, pp. 29–38.
  • Stephen, James Fitzjames (1873). "Equality." In: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. New York: Holt & Williams, pp. 189–255.
  • Stephen, Leslie (1891). "Social Equality," International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 261–288.
  • Tonsor, Stephen J. (1979). "Liberty and Equality as Absolutes," The Modern Age, Vol. XXIII, No. 1, pp. 2–9.
  • Tonsor, Stephen J. (1980). "Equality and Ancient Society," The Modern Age, Vol. XXIV, No. 2, pp. 134–141.
  • Tonsor, Stephen J. (1980). "Equality in the New Testament," The Modern Age, Vol. XXIV, No. 4, pp. 345–354.
  • Tonsor, Stephen J. (1980). "The New Natural Law and the Problem of Equality," The Modern Age, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, pp. 238–247.
  • Tonsor, Stephen J. (1981). "Equality: The Greek Historical Experience," The Modern Age, Vol. XXV, No. 1, pp. 46–55.
  • Velasco, Gustavo R. (1974). "On Equality and Egalitarianism," The Modern Age, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, pp. 21–28.