Liberty & Equality

Two central values of American political life are liberty and equality. Are these two values in tension with one another? As philosophy Prof. James Otteson explains, it depends on how you define equality. He traces two conceptions of equality. Formal equality comes from the form of institutions, such as equality before the law: all laws apply equally to everyone. Formal equality is a central tenet of the classical liberal tradition, and compatible with individual liberty. A second conception of equality is material or substantive equality, which holds that people ought to be equal in wealth or resources. Material equality may be impossible and may interfere with human diversity and dignity.

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