«Equality is something people make happen when they refuse to accept the status of inferiors. Equality is a commitment and a claim.”
These last words from Anne Phillips’ Unconditional Equals poignantly encapsulate her innovative approach to equality – it’s a matter of action. You're not equal to someone because you're alike, but because you assert your equality. The crux is that equality isn’t a matter of theory but of practice. She not just uses this mantra as a criticism of ideal theory but extends it to basic equality. For the longest time, basic equality has always been relegated to a property of moral power that’s common to all humans and thus justifies equal treatment. Phillips’ new approach doesn’t ask which property makes us equal but if a property makes us equal. Her answer is ‘no’, basic equality isn’t something that is grounded in a property but by an unconditional commitment to equality itself. The conditionality of basic equality has been taken for granted for way too long in political philosophy. It’s long overdue that we explored and problematize the implications of what we’ve taken for granted. The implications are no doubt grand for (basic) equality. If Phillips is correct, equality research till now will have been done from the wrong perspective. So, a complete realignment might be at work here. But much is to discuss before unconditionality can be accepted as a replacement for conditionality. And there is much to problematize about unconditionality that Phillips glosses over. This essay will delve deeper into her approach and will ask whether unconditionality has a case against its conditional counterparts. Can unconditionality solve the problems of basic equality? This essay will make a stance against unconditional basic equality, and I’ll try to show that Phillips’ approach can’t replace conditional basic equality because it’s born from a problematic division of theory and practice. Unconditional basic equality further harbours issues in its theoretical fabric and its practical application. But the most problematic issue stems from Phillips’ radical abandonment of theory for sole practical use. This division sprouts from the justified criticism of the overreliance on theory in political philosophy research at large but is then overcorrected by Phillips to an overreliance on practice.
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