16th Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Floris

Giacomo Floris, University of Manchester.

On Moral Equality. Its Justifications and its Costs


Most philosophers would agree that moral persons have equal moral status. Few, however, have tried to justify this claim. In particular, an advocate of the principle of moral equality faces the following challenge: if moral status is based on the possession of a scalar capacity, how come that those who hold that capacity to a higher/lower degree do not have a superior/inferior moral status? Ian Carter’s view (2011) provides a promising answer to this question: in short, Carter argues that the principle of moral equality is grounded in a duty of opacity respect for moral persons’ outward dignity to refrain from considering their level of agential capacities as relevant to the assessment of their moral status. In this paper, I contend that while Carter’s view can ground moral equality, it can do so only at high moral costs: this is because treating persons as opaque may fail to treat them as equals, at least in some circumstances. Contra Carter, I argue that moral persons have also an inward dignity which grounds a duty of positive respect to look at their level of agential capacities in order to remove those internal constraints that hinder their ability to exercise their capacity for moral personality. The paper concludes by analysing how a duty of positive respect can help us avoid paying the high moral costs that are entailed by Carter’s view; in particular, I argue that while positive respect prevents us from considering others as moral equals, it may be necessary for treating them as such.