The issue of equality has always been a ground for social conflicts. It was a subject of active debates and numerous pieces of philosophical and political writings. One of the outstanding works that discuss the origins of political life and organization of society is The Politics by Aristotle. Written centuries ago, it is still a valuable source of information that can be applied to analyzing the operation of modern-day society and states. As for the very matter of equality, it is dual in nature because the conception of justice is ambiguous, and equality is inseparable from inequality.
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To begin with, Aristotle views the conception of justice from two perspectives. First of all, it is the view of political parties. He believes that regardless of belonging to democracy or oligarchy, “all parties have a hold on a sort of conception of justice” (Aristotle 1280a7). It means that they perceive it in a way that would benefit them and support their political stance. At the same time, differences in the interpretation of social justice make up the primary distinction between oligarchs and democrats. While the first ones believe that if equality is measured in the distribution of wealth and property, establishing a just society is absurd because everyone would have the same volume of property (Aristotle 1280a25). In modern society, it is impossible, as everyone is born with different resources and background, and guaranteeing just distribution of property would inevitably lead to conflicts.
However, if justice is viewed from the perspective of access to social protection, as it is proposed by the democrats, it can be guaranteed and achieved because everyone is equal before the law and the state, as people seek mutual defense when creating one and adopting legislation (Aristotle 1280a25). It means that if they give up their freedoms in order to seek protection and safety, they want to be confident in social justice and equality.
On the other hand, the conception of justice is seen in the relation of equality and inequality. The only way to interpret them is to make assumptions from the standpoint of ordinary people. However, people are as well divided in equal (democrats) and unequal (oligarchs) based on the way they see the appropriate functioning of society. From this standpoint, both equality and inequality are believed to be just, but equality is just “for those who are equal” (Aristotle 1280a7), while inequality is just for those who are not. I am strongly inclined to believe that Aristotle did not develop this theory taking into account racial and gender peculiarities of society because, in this case, inequality cannot be interpreted as just. However, speaking of different political views and different approaches to seeing the operation of the state.
Keeping in mind everything mentioned above, I believe that Aristotle was criticizing both oligarchs and democrats because “they both fail to carry it far enough and do not express the true conception of in the whole of its range” (Aristotle 1280a7). Because democrats promote equality in birth and oligarchs preach inequality in wealth, they miss the most significant features of human nature – virtue and personal development. What I think Aristotle wanted to point to by saying these things is that justice is an equal distribution of values and benefits on the basis of individuals’ accomplishments instead of financial background and social ties. In addition, the philosopher’s idea was to draw attention to equal and just laws, i.e. those that promote equal treatment of people and the distribution of wealth and benefits but ignore social and financial differences.
In light of these statements, justice is one of the political conceptions. That is why there are political consequences of these assumptions. First of all, they underpin the existence of duality in a community starting from different views on the organization of states to dividing people into equal and unequal and highlighting the fact that wherever people end up and whoever they support is just for them. Moreover, this duality is justified politically because it is closely related to the very nature of a human being and constant inner conflict between choosing what is just and unjust. At the same time, these statements promote equality in the freedom of thought and expression because just like democrats and oligarchs are free to address different social groups and support different interpretations of the conception of justice, everyone else is equal in having this right as well.
To sum up, Aristotle’s statements are still progressive nowadays. Even though there are numerous views on the operation of society (outside of the democratic and oligarchic perception of the state), the problem of equality remains unchanged as well as the solution to this challenge. If the state guarantees an equal distribution of benefits and authority, as well as equal access to protection, it would be helpful for establishing not only political but also social justice. I am strongly inclined to believe that it is what Aristotle wanted to draw attention to and teach us when writing this philosophical text.
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Aristotle. The Politics. Translated by Ernest Barker, New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.