The Foundations of Human Equality

September 22, 2020 - September 24, 2020

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University of Warwick
King's College London


University of Berne
University of Berne

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The Foundations of Human Equality

22-24 September 2020, Bern (Switzerland) 

Most of us feel strongly committed to the basic moral equality of all human beings. Yet, none of the existing attempts to locate a non-arbitrary ground for this commitment have proved fully convincing. What is it in virtue of which all – though maybe not only – human individuals have a moral claim to have their interests equally taken into account against those whose actions might affect them? 

One challenge that theories of human equality are often taken to face is to accommodate human individuals who belong to either of the following groups: individuals who do not yet have the capacities that are considered to be relevant for moral equality, or who have lost these capacities, or who do not have the relevant capacities at any time in their life (e.g., people with congenital ‘severe’ or ‘profound’ cognitive impairments). We encounter similar difficulties in all debates about basic normative categories, such as dignitymoral value, statusstandingconsiderability or recognition and respect. Nevertheless, these concepts are often used in grounding moral and legal claims, they play important roles in legal texts and declarations as well as in contributions from political and moral philosophy. Therefore, sharpening the discussions about the scope of these basic normative categories is an important desideratum.

The aim of the workshop is to provide an occasion for discussing central questions linked to the concept of human equality, such as: 

  • How can we justify or explain our commitment to the idea that every human individual should be regarded and treated as a moral equal? 
  • What exactly does it require to treat someone as a moral equal? Answers to this question often refer to an individual’s interests. But how should we understand an individual’s interests in this context, what content can they have, and how can we determine the class of interests that is relevant to being treated as a moral equal? 
  • Is it more plausible to draw the boundary of the community of moral equals based on specific capacities of or based on a specific relation among the members of that community? How can we argue for the moral relevance of one or the other? 
  • Can we specify a way of relating to other human individuals that is not merely instrumentally valuable and whose value does not depend on reciprocity? Might the social needs of human individuals point us to such a valuable relation?
  • Some accounts of the community of moral equals also include non-human individuals. Should those accounts allow for differential treatment of those who are part of the community? If so, how can specific proposals meet this requirement?

The online workshop will feature six invited speakers: Kimberley Brownlee (University of British Columbia), Michael Cholbi (University of Edinburgh), Suzy Killmister (Monash University), Nikolas Kirby (University of Oxford), Costanza Porro (Universität Hamburg) and Andrea Sangiovanni (King’s College London/European University Institute).

The workshop is hosted by the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Bern and organized by Stephanie Elsen and Andreas Müller. If you have any questions or want to register for the online event, please write to

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September 14, 2020, 6:00pm CET

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