Elaine Yim (MPhil 2021)Res Publica , Volume 27, pp. 25–40
Published in 2021
Abstract: The belief that all human beings are ‘moral equals’ is widespread within the canon of Western liberal philosophy. However, it is unclear precisely what ‘moral equality’ or its associate terms mean, what grounds our ‘moral equality’ and what the implications of being ‘moral equals’ are. In this paper, I distinguish between three ways of understanding ‘moral equality’: the ‘buck-passing’, ‘explanatory’ and ‘reverse-explanatory’ accounts. The buck-passing account of moral equality is in parallel with Scanlon’s buck-passing account of value. It holds that ‘moral equality’ is not a metaphysically fundamental concept and simply amounts to having other properties shared equally by all human beings that constitute the reasons for why we ought to treat all human beings equally in certain respects. The explanatory account understands the concept of ‘moral equality’ as metaphysically fundamental and explanatory of why human beings who are the same in certain respects have the same entitlement to x. The reverse-explanatory account also sees ‘moral equality’ as metaphysically fundamental but holds that the explanatory relationship goes the other way round: moral equality is explained by how we ought to act. I argue that the buck-passing account is a more accurate way of understanding moral equality.