Are all men really created equal?

It's one of the central tenets to western civilisation, but is it really the case? Can it be said that some men are inherently better than others? For example, some would argue that those men who place community above themselves could be considered superior to a criminal who takes from that same community.

What do you think?

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Replies to This Discussion

Yes and no. It depends on the context.

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness ..." ~ The Declaration of Independence

In this context the statement "All Men are created equal" does not infer that all men have equal talents, virtues, or resources or potential. Equality in this context is in regard to natural rights that everyone deserves at birth and equal treatment under that law including the right to revolt in the face of unredressed grievances against trespasses of those natural rights.

The founding fathers were well aware of unequal talents and qualities and argued their perspectives quite fervently.

In a letter dated 13 July 1813, to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams wrote,

"Inequalities of Mind and Body are so established by God Almighty in his constitution of Human Nature that no Art or policy can ever plain them down to a Level. I have never read Reasoning more absurd, Sophistry more gross, in proof of the Athanasian Creed, or Transubstantiation, than the subtle labours of Helvetius and Rousseau to demonstrate the natural Equality of Mankind. Jus cuique [Justice for everyone]; the golden rule; do as you would be done by; is all the Equality that can be supported or defended by reason, or reconciled to common Sense."

I will also submit this link relevant to equality to Thomas Gordon, Cato's Letters, no. 45. Very enlightening reading. Keep the good questions coming Shaun!
Ditto, and if you look at the statement it says created equal, so I guess everyone has the same potential at birth... Twenty years down the line when one's a crook and the other's a pillar of the community is an entirely different question...
Yes, whether you are male, female, gay, strait, or somewhere in between, everyone is created equal. On the other hand when faced with the choice of saving my family or a convicted murderer, I choose to save my family.
I agree as well. To put it succinctly, all men are created equal but not necessarily equally.
I think it's already been said several times but I'll reiterate. In Western civilization, all men are equal, under the law, we have no grounds to presume that all men are created individually equal. We are quite obviously not all as inherently intelligent, curious, brave, or physically and emotionally strong. For the sake of our societies we must be treated as equal under the law. For the sake of our compassion for our fellow man, we must understand that not all stand on equal ground.
I wonder how this conversation can proceed without a definition of the pertinent criterion by which we define the qualities of a human being. What positive qualities add value, which negative qualities subtract it? is equality a matter of exact equivalence or are we allowed to make rough equivalences between two individual that have similar but not quite equal levels of "quality". But then that is a ugly question isn't, and thorny too. A little high and mighty to be asking it. First we rate ourselves. Then we rate others. Which is all well and goo until we start finding others lacking. What does that mean for them? Are they equally deserving of rights? Are they equally human? But then again, who are we to judge them in these matters? Perhaps the question is not are all men created equal but who are we to ask?
Christatos (and Shawn),

Agree, to really nut out the issue of equality, the legal equality which has been talked about so far might only be the beginning. (Side note: Even legal equality, or at least the application of the concept, is highly dubious at times -- ask any indigenous man in custody in a Western country, from any time period in the last two hundred years -- but that's a tangent which is probably not helpful to the discussion.)

What makes us good? What makes us bad? And who among us has the right to make those judgment calls?

Or, to phrase it differently to concern equality, if all men are equal, WHY are we equal? Is it because the founding fathers said that we are (and then, why did they)? What if you don't come from the United States? What if the United States suddenly ceased to exist? Surely there's a more enduring premise than that.
What intrinsic qualities are we looking at, which every man seems to have (we assume), which make us equal? And who decided that those qualities are the most valued?

I'd suggest that humans in general (and I include myself here) are not capable of rating themselves objectively, in terms of our quality as people on any plane that we care to mention (physical, emotional, creative, intellectual, spiritual, etc etc). Either we rate ourselves more highly than we ought, and seek examples that we consider of lower quality to justify ourselves, or we don't rate ourselves highly enough, pointing to people whose example we feel we can't hope to live up to.

The only real solution to this dilemma is to look for a standard outside of ourselves by which to be measured, since any attempt to measure humans by humans is self-referencing and not helpful. Let me explain with a story:

Once there was a lady on a commercial flight who was terribly afraid of flying. While over the ocean, the plane ran into some nasty weather and turbulence, visibility was low, and the plane was shaking about. The lady was a mess, and was sure she was going to die, until one of the flight staff came over to her and got her attention.
The staff member said to her, "Look out the window. Do you see that flashing light on the wingtip? Yes? Now look out the other window. Do you see the flashing light on that wingtip? As long as we stay between those two lights, we know that we'll get home safely."
The woman took great comfort from this, and kept a firm eye first on one flashing light, then the other, but was able to stay calm until the plane landed.

Of course the woman was deceived -- the flashing lights had little to do with her safety; they only mean that the wings are still attached, and if the plane was to crash, she might 'feel' safe right up to the moment of impact, but still be as dead as the other passengers who understood the danger they were in.
This is what I mean by a self-referencing measure being unhelpful. As long as humans are measuring themselves against other humans, we'll only ever try to be better than those in our sphere of attention (by whatever 'better' means -- we still haven't established), and we're not even sure if those people are a standard worth living up to. It's like the plane -- if the people around us are crashing and burning and we're 'better' (by which ever measure or measures we decided to use, and if we had trouble finding one, we probably invented one so that we could be 'better'), that's no indication at all that we aren't destined for the same fate, except that we 'feel' safe looking at our proverbial flashing lights.

All that to say that we as humans need a standard outside of ourselves by which to be measured. But the problem then is, what standard? Do we pick one so low that any man can attain it, and then we call all the ones that do 'equal'? What about the ones that don't (and surely there will be some)? Bigger question, what if an animal suddenly attains it -- a particularly talented chimp, or a bird gifted with speech? Are they suddenly equal with all men? OR, alternately, do we pick one so high that no man can attain, and call ourselves all equal by our failure to do so? What if one man then DOES attain it (and where's the judging panel, keeping score in case he slips up and falls back to earth)? There goes our equality.

Side note: No person is able to fly over intercontinental distances without external assistance (to rule out all the humans who seem to be able to levitate by means of some supernatural power). I guess we're all equal -- that question was easy. But, if flightlessness is our only measure, then that must mean that we're equal with chickens and cows. Gary Larson would love it -- he probably already thinks that, if you read any of his comic strips.

I'd love to hear what other men in the group might deem a suitable external standard to be and why, if they feel we even need one, and why or why not.


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