Re: [OPE-L] status equality

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sat Feb 12 2005 - 18:43:50 EST

At 12:27 PM -0800 2/12/05, Ian Wright wrote:
>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?

They are equal in having those causal powers but they do not those
causal powers in equal measure.

>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.

There will always be individual variation in that ability to move.
And there is no reason why a socialist society should not be willing
to treat people unequally, i.e. give extra training to those who need
it. But this might not be justifiable if we are to treat people in
the same abstract terms, as abstract equals.  People would also still
be unequal in terms of their needs. I may have children, you do not.
But if we were to be paid equally, treated as formal equals, then
this would mean inequality.

>  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.

I think there are enormous ideological pressures to reify people as
abstract equals of others. How else could the labor contract appear
just and free?

>(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.

Too tough on the so called relativists, I think, because he simply
does not have a sufficiently critical theory of the nature of his own


>Best wishes,

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