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We tend to be quite unmoved by inequalities between the well-to-do and the rich; our awareness that the former are substantially worse off than the latter does not disturb us morally at all' (Frankfurt) - Discuss

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Introduction

European Social and Political Studies MEST0205 'We tend to be quite unmoved by inequalities between the well-to-do and the rich; our awareness that the former are substantially worse off than the latter does not disturb us morally at all' (Frankfurt) Does this show the absurdity of equality as an ideal? Word count: 2,771 Lara Wolters Assessed essay March 2005 We tend to be quite unmoved by inequalities between the well-to-do and the rich; our awareness that the former are substantially worse off than the latter does not disturb us morally at all' (Frankfurt) Does this show the absurdity of equality as an ideal? The question posed is interesting on a philosophical as well as on a political level. It touches upon political issues such as deciding on the level of income tax for different income groups, and social issues such as whether it is acceptable to maintain certain economic and social inequalities in society. I have approached the question in the following way; first it shall be explored what kind of inequalities Frankfurt is referring to and, what it shall be defined what kind of equality the essay will deal with. Then, I shall examine whether Frankfurt's statement is actually plausible. I shall then commence to answer the question whether the ideal of equality is absurd. After that I shall examine where our instinctive tendency towards being more morally disturbed by the economic disparities between the poor and the rich than between the well-to-do and the rich comes from, if there is one. Although Frankfurt's idea is phrased clearly, several aspects of his statement require some degree of explanation. ...read more.

Middle

Ideals are not often 'mainstream' ideas but discussable, alternative paths of reflection on ideas that are not easy to achieve. If this were not the case, would an ideal not lose its significance? Having established not all persons are necessarily unmoved by the inequalities between the well-to-do and the rich, and that the ideal of equality is not absurd solely because we can argue against our consistency in applying it, it cannot be denied we seem to be more morally disturbed by the economic disparities between the poor and the well-to-do or the rich, than between the well-to-do and the rich. It shall now be examined where this tendency comes from. A first explanation for this is that however important one may find social or economic equality as an ideal, it is not the only value that should be taken into account when looking at inequalities. Temkin (1993) states for example that 'Equality is not all that matters. But it matters some.' In Parfit's example above, for instance, the pluralist view is that not only equality, but also utility should be taken into account. When faced with the question of what is better, all at the economic level of 50 or some at 190 and some at 200, the pluralist will choose for the latter. Unlike the Egalitarian or the Utilitarian, the pluralist takes into account other values besides equality. This is also the reason some philosophers are against the Leveling down principle; the idea that those with more favorable positions in society should 'give up' some of their advantages in order to favour greater equality. Although the pure egalitarian will be in favour Leveling Down, others, such as Utilitarians, may claim that as the effect of 'leveling down' is negative to some, it is questionable whether it generates better circumstances. ...read more.

Conclusion

It must be noted however, that the ideal of economic equality is misguidedly supported by some who mistake economic inequality for the undeserved suffering and distress poverty can bring. Their altruistically motivated concern is mistakenly translated into a concern for economic equality, while others who stand behind the ideal for equality do not only wish to help those in objective need, but have a desire to create more economic equality in all layers of society. In conclusion, somewhat in contrast with Frankfurt's claim, it must be noted that there are those who are 'moved' by inequalities between the well-to-do and the rich; those who genuinely believe in social and economic equality at all levels. However, there may indeed be an instinctive tendency towards being more morally disturbed by the disparities between the poor and the rich than between the well-to-do and the rich. Although we have seen that the urgency of achieving economic equality seems to diminish the higher the level of welfare gets, this does not mean we can dismiss the ideal of equality as 'absurd'. There are those who genuinely believe in social and economic equality at all levels and furthermore, an ideal does not have to be 'flawless' or unalterable to be valid. Rather than absurd, what the above shows us is that the ideal of equality is a complex ideal that is often referred to in the wrong context. 'Inequality', the word is sometimes used misguidedly to indicate the suffering poverty entails. This can be explained for 'equality' is an ideal with a vast and complicated subject matter that raises a lot of questions and is often discussed in vague terms. As a lot of confusion still exists on the subject it is indeed a matter open to further philosophical, as well as ideological and political progress. ...read more.

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