Equality and its implications
This is an installment of my reading journal on ethics. The topic of this installment is the chapter “Equality and Its Implications” of the book Practical Ethics by Peter Singer [2, pp.16–54]. Compared to some authors on philosophy, I find Singer’s writing to be usually (but not always) approachable and mostly free of jargons that haunt the professional philosophy literature. This is hardly surprising. The title of the book itself speaks true to the style of presentation: clear and readable prose that touches on philosophical issues of immediate concern to anyone, not just arm chair philosophers. René Descartes’ Discourse on the Method  is an example of philosophy writings that are readable by anyone without training in philosophy. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find (and read) another book on philosophy that is mostly jargon-free and written, not for philosophers, but for anyone with sufficient intelligence to follow logical arguments.
The chapter “Equality and Its Implications” considers the principle underlying equality and explores some implications of this principle. Humans differ from each other in many respects. What then is a core principle that underlies equality between them? Singer posits that when making an ethical judgement we must go beyond our own personal or sectional interests and consider the interests of people who would be affected by our decision. This is much more than an entreaty for us to take stock of stakeholders who would be affected by our decisions and actions. It is I think a gentle reminder that our decisions and actions do not take place in a vacuum, that we need to think beyond our own personal and parochial interests. A core principle of equality then is the principle of equal consideration of interests of those affected by a moral decision. Here, Singer says, an interest is to be considered on its own merits without regard to whose interest it is. “The essence of the principle of equal consideration of interests is that we give equal weight in our moral deliberations to the like interests of all those affected by our actions. … What the principle really amounts to is this: an interest is an interest, whoever’s interest it may be” [2, p.21]. In many cases, this principle agrees with the economic principle of declining marginal utility (diminishing returns?), but in special cases equal consideration can widen the welfare gap between people. The principle then is considered a minimal principle of equality.
With the principle of equal consideration of interests, Singer explores implications of this principle in the context of genetic diversity and justification of racism and sexism. Assuming for the sake of argument that there are specific genetic differences between racial groups so that, for example, one group has higher average IQ than another. Would this translate to a justification of racism? Or assuming that biological differences exist between female and male humans such that, say, males are more aggressive than females, etc. Would this mean that sexism is defensible? In both of these cases, justification of racism and sexism on genetic and biological grounds, it is not necessary for us to establish the validity of the theories we assume. We also do not assume that they are sound. We merely take the posited theories as is and explore how they relate to equality and their implications.
For the sake of exploring consequences, Singer first addresses the issue of racial differences and racial equality. Suppose that evidence accumulates to support the hypothesis of difference in intelligence between ethnic groups. That is, one group has a higher average IQ than another. What are implications of the hypothesis of genetically based differences in IQ between racial groups? First, this hypothesis does not imply that we should halt or reduce our efforts to overcome other manifestations or causes of inequality between people. Second, these average IQ scores are what they are: average scores that have little to no bearing on individuals. Third, the genetic hypothesis lends little to no credence to the justification of racism. In Singer’s view, “the principle of equality is not based on any actual equality that all people share. I have argued that the only defensible basis for the principle of equality is equal consideration of interests, and I have also suggested that the most important human interests … are not affected by differences in intelligence” [2, p.31].
Next, Singer addresses the justification of sexual differences and sexual equality on biological terms. His reasons against this are similar to those offered in the case of justifying racism on grounds of genetic differences. Singer then moves on to the issue of equal opportunity and equal pay. “To work for wider recognition of the principle of payment according to needs and effort rather than inherited ability is both realistic and, I believe, right” [2, p.44].
The principle of equal consideration of interests is next explored in relation to affirmative action. “The important point is that affirmative action, whether by quotas or some other method, is not contrary to any sound principle of equality and does not violate any rights of those excluded by it. Properly applied, it is in keeping with equal consideration of interests, in its aspirations at least. The only real doubt is whether it will work. In the absence of more promising alternatives it seems worth a try” [2, p.51].
 Descartes. Discourse on Method and the Meditations. Penguin Books, 1968. Translated by F. E. Sutcliffe.
 P. Singer. Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 1993.