This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes on equality, arranged in roughly chronological order. These quotes are all genuine and details about the author, book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable. Quotes that begin with a section of bold text are my personal favourites. Without further ado, here are sixteen philosophical quotes on equality:
The only stable principle of government is equality according to proportion, and for every man to enjoy his own.
– Aristotle, Politics, 1307a26, trans. B. Jowett
The weaker are always asking for equality and justice, but the stronger care for none of these things.
– Aristotle, Politics, 1318b, trans. B. Jowett
These reasonings have no logical connection: “I am richer than you, therefore I am your superior.” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am your superior.” The true logical connection is rather this: “I am richer than you, therefore my possessions must exceed yours.” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style must surpass yours.” But you, after all, consist neither in property nor in style.
– Epictetus, Enchiridion, XLIV, trans. Thomas Wentworth Higginson
The souls of emperors and cobblers are cast in the same mold. Considering the importance of the actions of princes and their weightiness, we persuade ourselves that they are produced by some causes equally weighty and important. We are wrong: they are led to and fro in their movements by the same springs as we are in ours. The same reason that makes us bicker with a neighbor creates a war between princes; the same reason that makes us whip a lackey, when it happens in a king makes him ruin a province. Their will is as frivolous as ours, but their power is greater.
– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, II, 12, Apology to Raymond Sebond, trans. Donald Frame
Nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself.
And as to the faculties of the mind . . . I find yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength. . . . That which may perhaps make such equality incredible is but a vain conceit of one’s own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree than the vulgar; that is, than all men but themselves, and a few others, whom by fame, or for concurring with themselves, they approve. For such is the nature of men that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance. But this proveth rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything than that every man is contented with his share.
– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, I, 15
Though I have said above “That all men by nature are equal,” I cannot be supposed to understand all sorts of equality: age or virtue may give men a just precedency: excellency of parts and merit may place others above the common level: birth may subject some, and alliance or benefits others, to pay an observance to those to whom nature, gratitude, or other respects, may have made it due: and yet all this consists with the equality, which all men are in, in respect of jurisdiction or dominion one over another; which was the equality I there spoke of, as proper to the business in hand, being that equal right, that every man hath, to his natural freedom, without being subjected to the will or authority of any other man.
– John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, VI, 54
I conceive that there are two kinds of inequality among the human species; one, which I call natural or physical, because it is established by nature, and consists in a difference of age, health, bodily strength, and the qualities of the mind or of the soul: and another, which may be called moral or political inequality, because it depends on a kind of convention, and is established, or at least authorised by the consent of men. This latter consists of the different privileges, which some men enjoy to the prejudice of others; such as that of being more rich, more honoured, more powerful or even in a position to exact obedience.
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Intro., trans. G. D. H. Cole
So far is it from being true that men are naturally equal, that no two people can be half an hour together, but one shall acquire an evident superiority over the other.
– Samuel Johnson as quoted in Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (Feb. 15, 1766)
The difference of natural talents in different men, is, in reality, much less than we are aware of. . . . The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education. When they came in to the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were, perhaps, very much alike, and neither their parents nor play-fellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance.
– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, I, 2
Though the truth may not be felt or generally acknowledged for generations to come, the only school of genuine moral sentiment is society between equals. The moral education of mankind has hitherto emanated chiefly from the law of force, and is adapted almost solely to the relations which force creates. In the less advanced states of society, people hardly recognise any relation with their equals. To be an equal is to be an enemy. Society, from its highest place to its lowest, is one long chain, or rather ladder, where every individual is either above or below his nearest neighbour, and wherever he does not command he must obey. Existing moralities, accordingly, are mainly fitted to a relation of command and obedience. Yet command and obedience are but unfortunate necessities of human life: society in equality is its normal state. Already in modern life, and more and more as it progressively improves, command and obedience become exceptional facts in life, equal association its general rule. The morality of the first ages rested on the obligation to submit to power; that of the ages next following, on the right of the weak to the forbearance and protection of the strong. How much longer is one form of society and life to content itself with the morality made for another? We have had the morality of submission, and the morality of chivalry and generosity; the time is now come for the morality of justice.
– John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women, II
Where there is anything like an equal distribution of wealth—that is to say, where there is general patriotism, virtue, and intelligence—the more democratic the government the better it will be; but where there is gross inequality in the distribution of wealth, the more democratic the government the worse it will be; for, while529 rotten democracy may not in itself be worse than rotten autocracy, its effects upon national character will be worse. To give the suffrage to tramps, to paupers, to men to whom the chance to labor is a boon, to men who must beg, or steal, or starve, is to invoke destruction. To put political power in the hands of men embittered and degraded by poverty is to tie firebrands to foxes and turn them loose amid the standing corn; it is to put out the eyes of a Samson and to twine his arms around the pillars of national life.
– Henry George, Progress and Poverty, X, 4
It is the characteristic of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the mind and heart of men. The privileged man, whether politically or economically, is a man depraved in mind and heart. That is a social law which admits of no exception, and is as applicable to entire nations as to classes, corporations, and individuals. It is the law of equality, the supreme condition of liberty and humanity. The principal object of this treatise is precisely to demonstrate this truth in all the manifestations of human life.
– Mikhail Bakunin, God and the State, II, trans. Benjamin R. Tucker
The doctrine of equality! There is no more poisonous poison anywhere: for it seems to be preached by justice itself, whereas it really is the termination of justice. “Equal to the equal, unequal to the unequal” — that would be the true slogan of justice; and also its corollary: “Never make equal what is unequal.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols: Expeditions of an Untimely Man, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale
In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors.
– Bertrand Russell, Ideas that Have Harmed Mankind
Throughout past history power has been used to give to the strong an undue share of good things and to leave to the weak a life of toil and misery.
– Bertrand Russell, Human Society in Ethics and Politics, II, 1
‘Everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one.’ This formula, much used by utilitarian philosophers, seems to me to form the heart of the doctrine of equality or of equal rights, and has coloured much liberal and democratic thought. Like many familiar phrases of political philosophy it is vague, ambiguous, and has changed in connotation from one thinker and society to another. Nevertheless it appears, more than any other formula, to constitute the irreducible minimum of the ideal of equality.
– Isaiah Berlin, Concepts and Categories: Philosophical Essays, Equality
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