The concept of equality has elicited various philosophical arguments in an effort to determine the most appropriate explanation. Equality has been examined in a social, economic, and political context especially in an attempt to delineate the ideal conditions for a harmonious society. Marx, Kant, Hegel, and Mill are some of the philosophers whose contributions to the equality debate have been widely examined. These philosophers have described ideal conditions that facilitate the attainment of equality; however, their individual views and arguments differ on principle with respect to the factors that determine the presence or absence of equality.
Kant, Hegel, and Mill on Equality
Kant takes a humanist view of equality and bases his argument on the assertion that political equality is only guaranteed if there is a legitimate government that protects and safeguards natural freedoms of its people. Consequently, other freedoms and rights emerge as a factor of the government facilitating the people's natural right to freedom. Kant's view on equality demands that people should be treated equally by the government, its institutions, and agents. Hence, the economic and political environment should not favor some individuals at the expense of others (Rauscher 2012). For instance, people should not be treated less because of their political or social affiliations, but they should be treated equally as guaranteed by the constitution. Unlike Mill, Kant does not only consider the social equality between the sexes but takes a larger perspective on issues that affect people in the entire country (Rauscher 2012). Hence, human rights are presented as the basis of his arguments for equality.
Mills argues that every person has the right and desire to be happy; therefore, there is an inherent need for equality in people's ability to attain happiness (Brink 2014). Significantly, Mills takes into consideration gender equality and asserts that both male and female sexes have the right to be equally treated. Hence, the women should experience and enjoy the same rights, freedoms, and liberties as their male counterparts. The lack of social equality especially between men and women creates an imbalanced society where women are treated as inferior to men (Thomas 2005). Gender equality recognizes that women are capable of doing the same things as men, if not better. Mills posits that it is not prudent to judge an individual on the basis of his or her sex; hence, men and women should have equal opportunities in the social, economic and political environment.
It is my view that Mills arguments were justified considering that gender does not limit an individual's ability to perform a job or to lead others towards social and economic progress. Modern social dynamic justifies Mills argument considering that women have been able to do things equally as men, if not better.
Hegel argues that individuals have ethical equality; hence "freedom can emerge only as the product of an infinite striving for ethical equality with God" (Gammon 1996, p.315). Hegel posits that the implementation of moral and ethical equality leads to the creation of a society that is in harmony. Hence, people are treated as equal human beings and having equal opportunities in life. This view is challenging since it requires people to have a sense of moral and ethical justice in order for equality to be possible. However, in normal social settings, not everyone has a sense of moral or ethical justice considering that human beings are dynamics and unpredictable.
Meanwhile, Marx presents various points to support his arguments of social equality especially through fostering the creation of an equal social and economic dynamic of all members of society irrespective of their individuality. Marx presents various arguments especially in addressing social, economic, and political equality in society. His views are not restricted to a single perspective, but they take a holistic view of society and various factors that influence equality in society.
Marx’s Account on Inequality
Marx's arguments were based on the view that wealth, resources, life prospects and power are unevenly distributed in society. For instance, prior to 2009, the world economy was deteriorating, and people were facing various economic challenges. The wealthiest person in the United States in 2004 had more than five times of what the bottom-half of the people in the wealth distribution graph owned. Research studies indicate that the United States has the highest forms of inequality across the globe (Sypnowich, 2003, p. 33).
Political structures have a major role to play when it comes to inequality. Incidentally, political systems contribute towards the establishment of collusion and oligopolies through tax laws and regulations. In view of the existing inequality systems, political institutions are in the hands of the people who benefit from inequality; therefore, widening the inequality problem and expanding the gap between the rich and poor in the community.
Karl Marx strongly opposed the system of inequality that has continued to persist in society. Equality is not only a political notion but a social and economic one as well. Marx attempted to eliminate inequality in society through the establishment of various principles that are summarized in 10 points on social, economic and political equality in society (Marx 1848). Marx developed communist ideals that focused on eradication of social, economic, and political inequity among the various classes in the community. Marx establishes two fundamental ideas. The first one is that equality is seen from a political perspective. The second idea is that class abolition forms a basis for establishing a real meaning to proletarian demand when it comes to equality. The demand in question is developed through precisely expressing the proletarian aspirations.
Political and Economic Factors
Marx develops his idea on the fact that equality is driven by several political factors that result in bourgeois equality as revealed by the law. In view of Marx's understanding, bourgeois equality is an example of a procedural form of equality. This means that equality is required by various factors that determine the law and order. Marx argued that the legal system should not have the capacity to provide some estates or parties with more privileges in comparison to the others. This is a resemblance of the feudal-aristocratic political order as it was presented in Europe. Marx suggested that all the members of the society had the right to equality despite their status in the society. This includes the independence of benefiting from the opportunities and resources in the world system, including the freedom of living comfortable from a person's property.
Equal justice is also a political factor that influences equality from Marx's perspective. Marx holds an assumption that equality before the law, especially in contract establishments must be implemented through the use of free and equal economic agents to create equal values for the parties involved. This is a capital surplus requirement; consequently, it is apparent that the labor power offered to capitalists forms a basis for the innate human rights that determine equality in the society. The innate rights in question include equality, liberty, and the right to property. Evidently, Marx does not consider the act of labor exploitation as unjust or one that violates the right to equality. In Marx's perspective, rights are interrelated to legal and political institutions (Marx 1848). Through the implementation of Marx's historical materialistic theory, it is apparent that the political and legal institutions are simply legal-political superstructures that come out of a real foundation within an existing form of production (Vries 2015, p. 70).
Considering Marx's sentiments on just distribution, it is clear that all societal members should obtain an equal right when it comes to labor distribution. He regards this as the only just way of engaging in labor distribution. Marx indicates that within a society, an economic structure and its cultural development will always be held at a higher position than any right (Marx 1848). As a result, any insured distribution that determines any means of consumption is regarded as an end-result of the distribution of the actual production conditions. In cases where production aspects are distributed as if they were under a capitalist mode of production, then the established means of distribution noted in the current world results in an automatic manner. Hence, distribution standards implemented in determining justness in labor distribution are only applicable within a capitalist society. In the determination of wealth distribution, Marx utilizes the term profit, price, and value.
Equal standard defects in a political system are also a political determinant of equality. Apparently, according to the justice system, all resources must be equally distributed though the question of equal standard to be implemented in this case still arises. However, to ascertain the standard of measuring equality, it is clear that various considerations must be recognized. For instance, income, wealth, and opportunity are some of the factors to consider. In the context of inequality, it is apparent that cases such as poor education, lack of control, and poor health among others will always arise. Through equality, such factors may not always be the case as a result of balancing resources among all the societal members.
According to Marx, there is no standard that determines the demand for justice. The philosopher acknowledges the fact that there is the likelihood that an equal standard can be applied in cases where the bourgeois notion of equality and rights are apparent. Marx further depicts that equal standard determines the existence of rights in its particular nature. Unequal individuals can be measured through the implementation of equal standards that are undertaken from an equal point of view for all parties. Marx acknowledges the fact that there are several defects in the system that can be avoided. According to him, rights must be unequal other than being equal. However, this is not evident during the first phase of the communist society. According to Marx, if terms such as justice and right were not implemented, then, equality is likely to be in existence for all.
In view of Marx's critique of the political notion that determines equality in the society, equality within the bourgeois society means equality in the political system and laws and the bourgeois economy (Wolf 2015). Economic distribution on aspects such as education reform, tax policy, and land reform besides other measures require the implementation of laws for effective distribution in a fair manner. Marx opposes this as he depicts that such rights will only be administered based on the political identity of the people. As a result, the aspect of fairness arising from equality will no longer be a resultant feature of such an action. Further, Marx outlines that the political state and the civil society are two different aspects that never agree based on the fact that the political state opposes the civil society before prevailing over it.
Therefore, a bourgeois capitalistic society is established where a set of powers is established over human beings. Therefore, the people are deprived of their freedom and equal right since they will not have the requisite freedom and rights to control their lives other than through state coercion. Economic aspects result in class development within the society. By taking class into consideration, various forms of oppression arise therefore depicting inequality on a different scale. According to the philosopher's perception, people from the higher class will always show individual egoistic interests that will drive the persons from the lower class to individual sacrifices that will give rise to inequality.
I consider Marx's account to promote a better understanding of equality. The philosopher separates the political lives of human beings and that the real social life to explain how equality is perceived. According to him, conceptions such as right, equality, and justice are simply political structures that do not express the aspirations of an individual within a free society. As a result, the identified conceptions are not adequate in the explanation of equality as provided by other philosophers.