The Philosophical Groundings of Equality

Introduction:

As the first blog upload, I will be discussing the philosophical groundings of equality which will give you a good idea about how I approach both philosophy and Christianity. This is a very important topic that I will be expanding on in latter posts, but I believe that this is a brief yet sufficient intro to the topic.

Abstract:

In this essay, I will be defending two notions which will provide a sufficient grounding for equality. 1) All moral systems which point to equality presuppose the intrinsic value of human life. 2) Intrinsic value of human life can only be grounded on theism. If these two conclusions are justified, we can conclude that the only way one can have a warranted belief in equality is via a simultaneous belief in theism. This is not an argument for the existence of God or equality, instead I am postulating that they cannot be separated.

The Philosophical Groundings of Equality

One of mankind’s greatest developments in the past century has been the growing awareness of human rights and the equality of opportunity.  Regardless of one’s background, people from all around the world have been rallying under one flag, the flag for equality.  

While emotions and respect may point to the need for equality, as a philosopher, I am also worried about its groundings.  Just that a lot of people believe in x doesn’t make x right!  If belief in equality is unjustified, how can we possibly live an intellectually satisfied life knowing full well that our key belief is unwarranted?

Hence, I have decided to set off on this journey to provide you with a profound and insightful article to delve deeper into the possible groundings for equality.  To provide you with an intellectually cogent and satisfying worldview upon which you can ground and develop your belief in equality.  

In this article, I will be defending two simple notions which underlie our understanding of equality.  I will first defend the notion that all moral systems which point to equality presuppose the intrinsic value of human life.  In the second half, I defend the notion that all atheistic explanations fail to provide intrinsic meaning, leaving the philosopher with no way to turn but towards theism.    

Notion 1:  All moral systems which point to equality presuppose the intrinsic value of human life

Although it appears intuitive that all moral systems which point to equality must presuppose the intrinsic value of human life, I think that there is a depth of logic and argumentation behind this notion which can develop it beyond mere intuition.   

Think about every single case of discrimination or prejudice that you have either witnessed or heard about.  What is a similarity between each case? 

One of the main reasons behind discrimination is the fact that we are unable to see past one’s extrinsic properities and values.  We immediately place people into groups dependent on their extrinsic properties and then judge them accordingly.  

Examples of this could include race, gender, socio-economic background, personality and religion.  In every situation, we get caught up in these sets and social categories without looking beyond them.   This primitive form of differentiation often grows and leads to undesirable social issues like discrimination or prejudice.  

This is where the need for equality arises.  

In my opinion, equality is not about destroying or eliminating these social categories.  These social categories are not the problem, the misuse of them is.  In fact, I think that by understanding these social categories and accepting them, we open ourselves to a deep appreciation of the nature of mankind.  

Instead, equality is about accepting these social categories and looking beyond them.  Looking towards a further unifying category which encompasses all of mankind.   

Yet what is it about human beings which is so unifying?  

There must be something about human life itself which is unifying, something which is so basic and so innate within the fact of being human that it ignores the smallest difference between humans, down to the very DNA.   

Now it’s easy to stop here and think that we have already grounded equality.  In truth, we are only half finished.  We have identified specifically what we need to discover, exactly what we need to ground, now we need to look at how we ground it, or more accurately, what grounds it.

Notion 2:  Intrinsic value can only be grounded in theism.

Grounding the meaning and value of life is a problem which has been discussed to significant depth in the history of philosophy, while I wouldn’t go over everything that has been discussed, I will cover the most relevant philosophers in this section.   

Philosophers have often approached this from two different perspectives: atheistic and theistic.  By understanding both these worldviews, we will be able to understand which one provides a better grounding for the intrinsic meaning and value of life.  

The atheistic approach to the grounding of the meaning and value of life normally comes in the form of existentialism and absurdism,  two movements in philosophy which were developed in post-WW2 France by the philosophers Sartre and Camus respectively.  

The existentialist movement can be summarised as the belief that humans, as free individual beings, can search for their own meaning and their own value in life.  Whereas the absurdist movement can be summarised as the embracement of the absurdity of life and the rejoicement in the absurd.  

To understand whether these approaches provide reasonable justification to warrant a belief in the intrinsic value and meaning of life, we must first understand the foundations of these two movements which are found within the works of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky. 

Let us first turn to Nietzsche, one of the main philosophers associated with nihilism.  Nihilism comes in many forms, the most extreme form of nihilism being  the view that all knowledge and understanding is unobtainable.  However, the form of nihilism that I am interested in here is existential nihilism, the view which is nihilistic towards the intrinsic value of life.  

This is embodied in Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of God.  In his book The Gay Science he famously writes: 

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125; Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.])

This extract is constantly misrepresented by atheists, they think that Nietzsche was using this as a celebration of the end of religion.  However, this could not be further from the truth.  He knew the implications of the fall of religion.  He was afraid that along with the metaphorical death of God, the will to live and the will to meaning would crumble into ashes, an age of nihilism emerging in His place.  

In response to this, Nietzsche identified another grounding for meaning in life, realized through the idea that a ‘will to power’ drives all human actions. Based on this, he postulates that we should strive towards the “uberman (overman)”, to be the masters of ourselves, and be able to formulate our own values without following the social norm.  Ultimately elevating ourselves to become gods, gods of ourselves. (This is further recognised in the character Kirilov in Dostoyevsky’s work which is discussed later in the article)


Although this sounds attractive, when we delve into the fine print, we realise that these “ubermen” were not traditional heroes, they were not humble, they did not strive for equality.  What originally appeared to be a formulation of a utopia soon turned into a dystopian society. 

With the greatest genocides and the disregard of human rights occurring within the 20th century, we must ask ourselves whether Nietzsche was right when heralding the death of God.

To answer this, we must turn to the father of existentialism, Kierkegraad.  Growing up surrounded by death, Kierkegraad recognised the stark futility in life.  He saw angst as the thorn in the side for pleasure and contentment.  To him, the lack of knowledge of the future, the fear of death and other vices all increased the suffering and the intolerable nature of life.  

This inescapable suffering led him to only one conclusion, Christianity.  Not institutionalised Chrsitianity, but the basic principles of Christianity, the self-sacrificial nature of the atonement, love for one’s neighbors, the dominating theme of forgiveness.  It was these attributes of Christianity that allowed him to escape the seemingly meaninglessness of life.  

Yet is this really necessary?  Is God really needed for the meaning of life or was Kierkegaard too pessimistic about atheistic explanations?

This takes us to Dostoyevsky, one of the most profound Russian writers of the nineteenth century.  Throughout his works, Dostoyevsky wrestles with issues of nihilism and irrationality.  The bleak meaningless of life.  

This is perhaps best presented, as Camus notes, by the character Kirilov in Dostoyevsky’s book Demons.  He understands that God is necessary for meaning and purpose and value, however he simultaneously knows with confidence that God does not exist and cannot exist. 

Consequence?  

He kills himself.  

No matter how far we try to run from God, no matter how hard we try to search for meaning in a world without a creator, Dostoyevsky makes the choice crystal clear.  Acceptance of God on one hand or the acceptance of absurd and meaningless on the other.  

Now that we have completed a tour of these three masters of philosophy, we come to the conclusion that life at its core, without God, has no intrinsic value and meaning. 


How would the existentialist and the absurdist react?

The absurdist, like Camus, would agree.  In fact, he would rejoice in the face of the absurd.  To Camus, it is the embracement of the absurd which appreciates the joy in life.  While it is ironic, the absurd becomes the meaning of life.   

The existentialist, on the other hand, may disagree.  An existentialist may hold that the intrinsic value and meaning of life is not found within the meaning that one ascribes to themselves.  Instead, it is found within the very choice that he makes when choosing the meaning for himself.  The intrinsic value is found within the free will of man to choose his meaning.  

Unfortunately, I disagree with the existentialist and the absurdist alike.  The absurdist fails to ground any intrinsic value to life and the existentialist struggles with finding meaning out of non-meaning.  After all, if you start off with a meaningless universe, it is hard to picture how any meaning could evolve out of the meaningless, out of meaningless processes.  

Hence, we can conclude that the atheistic approach fails to warrant a belief in the intrinsic value of human life.  From which it only follows that a justification for equality, on atheism, is missing.  

Yet all hope is not lost, there is still one more possible outlook which one can take to ground the intrinsic value of human life.  The possible solution which was raised by all three of our “pre-existentialist” philosophers, Nietzsche, Kiekegaard and Dostoyevsky.  

Theism. 

From a theistic outlook, we immediately find ourselves with a sufficient grounding for the intrinsic value of human life.  Regardless of the historical veracity of the first few chapters of Genesis, a completely different debate which I loath to enter, we learn that all of mankind is made in the image of God.  


From this, it only follows that human life has intrinsic value and purpose.  The fact that God Himself stepped down to earth in the personification of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and gave His life for all humanity further emphasises this point.  

Hence, where atheism fails, theism succeeds, not only in providing us with what the intrinsic value of human life is-that we are all made in the image of God, but also provides us with a sufficient grounding for the existence of this intrinsic value.  With this in mind, we can conclude that theism provides a strong philosophical grounding and justification for belief in equality.  

To conclude: 

I will like to make it very clear that this is not an argument for the existence of God nor is this an argument against atheism.  It is an argument for the grounding of equality which is logically coherent and satisfying. 

From the two notions I have proposed above, I believe we can reach two profound insights into the groundings of equality: 

  1. On atheism, intrinsic value for human life cannot be grounded.  Since belief in equality requires the intrinsic value of human life, it only follows that if God does not exist, belief in equality is unjustified.
  2. On theism, intrinsic value of human life can be grounded.   Since belief in equality requires the intrinsic value of human life, it only follows that if God does exist, belief in equality is justified.

These are very controversial conclusions and are bound to be a thorn in the side for many activists.  So if you disagree with anything in the article, feel free to let me know and I will be happy to discuss or debate these issues.  (My email can be found in the contact page of the blog or feel free to comment below).

Finally, this does not mean that an atheist cannot support equality or make a strong stand for social justice.  I have a lot of atheist friends who fight passionately for civil rights issues.  However, the only problem is that their belief in equality is unjustified given their atheistic worldview.  

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