Re: [OPE-L] status equality

From: Ian Wright (iwright@GMAIL.COM)
Date: Sat Feb 12 2005 - 15:27:23 EST

Hi Rakesh

On just one of your points ...

> Ian, I am not sure what you mean by equality of causal powers. Is
> equality of individuals a natural fact--I am not talking about
> groups? Then how do we recognize the need for special attention in
> some areas for some individuals? Or do we dismiss the need for
> such in the name of all individuals being equal? Then the ideology of
> equality would contribute to the entrenchment of material inequality.

What we are talking about here is how to specify a natural kind, in
this case "human". Presumably the term refers to a collection of
things that share certain causal powers. With any such terms, there
are always edge cases. For example, consider soccer balls. It is
relatively easy to identify them. But what if it is punctured? Is it
still a soccer ball? Or what if it is square?

Does the existence of partially broken balls mean that we must
question the reality of a class of balls that are equal in their
causal powers, which can be kicked around, headed, rolled along the
floor, and are interchangeable?

In any natural population there is variation. There can be errors in
DNA transcription. It is hard to make identical copies of things
without expending effort to seal off the copying system from outside
disturbances. Even at the atomic level, there are differences between
identical things. No H2O atom at any time will have the identical
angular separation between its oxygen atoms. At very fine-grained
levels of detail, such small differences may even cause small
differences in the causal powers of molecules of the same type. Does
this mean therefore that there is not a class of water molecules with
identical causal powers?

> OK. But all humans, qua particular individuals, do not share these
> powers equally.

It would be a strange world indeed if all humans were identical. And
it would be a strange world if all humans were completely different. A
good test of the objective equality of humans is their ability to move
into almost any area of the social division of labour. Some
transitions are harder than others of course, which is why, for
instance, great athletic achievement is not a real option for many of
us. So I'm talking about qualitative identity of causal powers: the
ability to run vs. the ability to run the fastest, and similar.

I think the over-philosophizing and scepticism regarding the meaning
of linguistic concepts is a product of postmodern idealism. But it is
important to defend the universal nature of humans, just like it is
important to defend the meaning of less contested natural kinds, such
as H20. The link is the objective reality of the theoretical terms we
use to understand the world, even while acknowledging that such terms
may be incomplete and perhaps contradictory.

Does any of this help? It took me a good few months to convince a
quasi-postmodern friend of mine of the objective equality of people.
There are enormous ideological pressures to reject this, I think.

(But what is the real definition of being a human? It is not so clear
as the real definition of water.)

Thanks for the mention of Ernest Gellner, I had never heard of him,
and he sounds like an interesting guy.

Best wishes,


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