Jonathan Wolff

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199238804
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728365 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy


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  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Social and Political Philosophy


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To trace the history of the concept of equality in political philosophy is to explore the answers that have been given to the questions of what equality demands, and whether it is a desirable goal. Considerations of unjust inequality appear in numerous different spheres, such as citizenship, sexual equality, racial equality, and even equality between human beings and members of other species. Ancient Greek political philosophy, despite Aristotle's famous conceptual analysis of equality, is generally hostile towards the idea of social and economic equality. Plato's account of the best and most just form of the state in the Republic is a society of very clear social, political, and economic hierarchy. It is with Thomas Hobbes that the idea of equality is put to work. This article explores equality as an issue of distributive justice; equality in the history of political philosophy; equality in contemporary political philosophy; the views of Ronald Dworkin, Karl Marx, and David Hume; equality of welfare; equality, priority, and sufficiency; Amartya Sen's capability theory; and luck egalitarianism.

Keywords: Ronald Dworkin; Karl Marx; David Hume; equality; welfare; Amartya Sen; capability theory; egalitarianism; distributive justice; political philosophy

Article.  6229 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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