Program in Ethics and Public Affairs
ABSTRACT: Influential strands in politics, philosophy, and law treat equality as a kind of sameness, given by nature, reason, or God, somehow inherent in human beings, sometimes from birth. Versions of this understanding of equality became fixtures in social contract theories of 17th-century Western political thought, were enshrined in 18th-20th century Declarations of rights, and in the 1776 US Declaration of Independence’s “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal.” They appear, too, in abiding commitments among contemporary Anglo-American philosophers to equality as a deep, basic, moral given or fact. Recovering the ancient Greek distinction between arithmetic and geometric equality, Rethinking Democratic Equality explores the resonances between equality as a given sameness and arithmetic equality, and the relation of these to the current US Supreme Court majority’s jurisprudence of “colorblind equality.” Putting the account of geometric equality in the texts of Plato and Aristotle in conversation with dissenting Supreme Court opinions and contemporary political philosophy, the paper seeks to forge an understanding of equality that, unlike “colorblind equality,” can be accountable to the historical and ongoing effects of systemic racial inequality. This is an equality that is made not given, and a matter of differences not sameness.
Jill Frank is an AY2021-22 member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Jill Frank is Professor of Government and Classics at Cornell University. A scholar of the politics, philosophy, and poetry of the ancient world, she is author of the award-winning Poetic Justice: Rereading Plato’s Republic and A Democracy of Distinction: Aristotle and the Work of Politics. She is currently at work on The Beauty of Equality, which explores the capacities of the texts of Plato and Aristotle to defamiliarize the contemporary American politics and jurisprudence of equality in radically democratic directions.