Even though Egalitarianism is typically associated with the Left, it appears that even the Right considers equality to be desirable.

This seems puzzling to me, as there's overwhelming empirical evidence of inherent differences between both individuals and groups of individuals.

I've also found no convincing argument for equality as a valid ethical standard. In fact, in most papers on the subject it's just taken as granted, without any explanation.

  • 16
    "Equality" is a highly overloaded word. The left (USA progressives) strive for equality of outcome. The right (libertarians) strive for equality of opportunity. Not sire what you mean by this, "no convincing argument for equality as a valid ethical standard." I would suspect that ethical standards would start with equality as an axiom, not as a derived ethical standard.
    – user1873
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 7:40
  • 1
    "as there's overwhelming empirical evidence of inherent differences between both individuals and groups of individuals." This statements seems to be an attempt to legitimize "scientific racism."
    – John
    Commented Sep 20, 2018 at 18:20

4 Answers 4


The entire social contract tradition on which most modern forms of government are based depends on equality of certain rights. The Declaration of Independence states it rather clearly

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As people in the comments have stated, equality of outcome is a topic which is often debated in political philosophy. Equality of circumstances, the ability to succeed and live a happy life, is not seriously debated by the right or the left.

  • 7
    +1 for the social contract theory, but the Declaration of Independence would be problemmatic, since it is so debatable that the founding Fathers would have seen, say, black men, landless men, or women as being created equal... Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 16:06
  • @AffableGeek Also, I don’t know to what extent the Declaration is a valid testament to widespread acceptance. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 4:54
  • 1
    The left would say that the economic conditions cause people to have unequal opportunities, e.g. children of rich people vs children of poor people. Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 9:38
  • 2
    @user253751 Would anyone on the right disagree? AFAIK the political differences are about how much the government should do to compensate those differences, not about whether those differences exist in the first place.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 10:10
  • @gerrit The right would say that they somehow deserve it. They had equal opportunities at some point, which led to unequal outcomes, and so now they deserve the further unequal opportunities which result from those unequal outcomes. Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 14:52

From one viewpoint, equality is basically the same thing as fairness, and fairness is something that all primates tend to value. This National Geographic article, for example, discusses how capuchins will throw rewards back in the faces of researchers if someone's getting a better deal than them. We accept equality as a value because we're genetically predisposed to.

From another, you can always get the short end of the stick. John Rawls argued for the original position (WP link), but most of us don't even need to think about a hypothetical pre-birth discussion. There's some point where we've been treated as less for something out of our control, and usually irrelevant. It's not fun; arguing for equality let's us demand that you can't stop us just because of our race, gender, politics, religion, etc. As you imply, it's ambiguous in a way that lets there be many arguments about it.

And going back to fairness, the only people really arguing that one race is better and should get treated better because of that is people who are of that race. If you're not part of that argument, that should trigger your fairness and empathy genes; it's fundamentally unfair and sucks to the people who aren't of that race.


Generally, equality is valued because it is the most pragmatic policy when it comes to government, law and economics. All the things I listed, are part of the greater society (of course there are other factors), but in the end, equality is the goal and it's the most "common sense" of all goals. In short, it's essentially the application of the Golden Rule.

... and there's a lot of examples of societies becoming unstable because of essentially, this very basic principle being violated. Everything from the collapse of monarchies, to even the smallest social club at a high school. It's basic, fundamental ideas about decency being applied to all individuals.

It's a widely accepted political goal because most examples of extremely unequal societies tend to be unstable.

It's also a misunderstanding that the Left aims for equality of outcome. This is often lost in the conversation. They want equality of opportunity. (and often this is talked about), but we want equity in outcome. Equity being more than just "the same" but what is FAIR. This is a nuance that gets lost the conversation a lot but Equity, is extremely important to Left Wing types. It's misconstrued as Outcome, it's not about equality of outcome. It's about having having outcomes that are equitable. Equity is about creating fair and just conditions within the context of things. Equality, is about just giving everyone the same thing or expecting the same thing, which isn't bad either... but Equity is a little more nuanced in its definition and application.


Equality is widely accepted because it can mean so many different things to so many people. The core of equality is some sort of universal sense of freedom, justice, or value. Once you accept that all people have some basic moral value, at least until they do something to debase or surrender that moral value, then you have embraced a form of equality - all people being equally entitled to the presumption of moral value.

Although everybody has different skills, preferences, and perspectives, it can still be true that people have some sort of moral equality. Every worldview believes people differ in their abilities, even if such differences are societal rather than innate; how can socialists or communists rail against a bourgeoisie if it has no extra abilities or advantages? So everyone agrees that people are not equal in their condition. That does not negate the principle that people ought to have some basic equal footing in the moral dimension.

I believe you're getting at the more specific issue of whether the economy, the world, or society rewards and punishes people randomly or commensurate with merit. In other words, do the rich and the poor "deserve" to be in their position. Although this is a common battleground over "equality" it does not have to be the only place equality may be found. In fact, even this struggle, presumes an equality of opportunity to use your natural merits; if you have no ability to hone and burnish your merits because of unequal conditions, then the successful people's merits are less rigorously challenged and proven. Without equality of opportunity (the chance for merit to rise), there is no real point to merit.

I will grant that, at its root, equality is usually taken as an a priori value. The alternatives to embracing some form of equality are generally nihilistic ("things happen and then you die") or flatly prejudiced ("good things should happen to you if you belong to my preferred clan"). Even the sense that all people have an equal claim to not be murdered (absent some other factor, like war or crime), is accepting a form of equality.

You must log in to answer this question.