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Equality (occasionally and especially in the political or philosophical context, French Égalité ) means agreement of a plurality of objects, persons or facts in a certain characteristic with differences in other characteristics. Identity means complete correspondence, that is, indistinguishability with regard to every feature. Similarity denotes an only approximate agreement. Equality exists between two or more objects and one or more properties. Equality describes the relationship between the objects or people being compared. Equality can exist in terms of quality , quantity or relation . It is determined by the method of comparison .

In relation to humans, equality is a general ideal of justice that dates back more than two thousand years in its development. Equality gained constitutional significance in the Declaration of Independence of the United States in 1776 . Alongside freedom and fraternity, equality was one of the three leitmotifs of the French Revolution of 1789 ( liberté, égalité, fraternité ). It is a fundamental democratic principle that all people are equal before the law.

historical development

The right to equality among full citizens of a polis can already be found under the term isonomia in ancient Greece. After the reforms of Kleisthenes, the term isonomia denoted equality before the law. After that, everyone had the same right to treatment under the law.

Like Plato, Aristotle distinguished between two kinds of equality. The arithmetic equality is number-oriented. When a thing is sold, a corresponding value is owed for the goods provided; it is about the equivalence of performance and consideration. If something is damaged, the damage caused must be paid for. Preserving arithmetic equality is a matter of balancing justice. The second form of equality has a qualitative character. It is important in the distribution of goods and offices. It is about distributive justice as geometric or proportional equality. According to Aristotle and Plato, those whose merits are greater deserve more. With Aristotle and Plato, social equality only applied to free men. Their wives were excluded, as were slaves , on whose work performance ancient economic and social life rested.

At Ulpian you will find the following principles: Live honorably, do no one injustice, give each his own . Justice is the unchangeable and permanent will to grant everyone their rights.

As a result of democratic tendencies, the draft constitution of the British independents , Agreement of the People , strongly emphasized the equality of all people. In order to protect the rights of the non-aristocratic majority, John Calvin recommended a mixture of democracy and aristocracy as the best form of government in the 16th century .

Thomas Hobbes designed a human living in an egalitarian state in a theoretical natural state . The idea of ​​the state of nature is fundamental to his political philosophy, it is about a thought experiment. Everyone is equal and free, and everyone has the natural right and also the same talent to enforce their egoistic nature indefinitely, even against the resistance of others. Equality thus becomes the cause of a state of war. Self-preservation leads people to leave the state of nature and enter into a social contract. The social contract is a contract of submission to a sovereign. "I hand over my right to rule myself to this person or this society on condition that you also cede your right to him or her over yourself."

The idea of ​​equality and other human rights was further processed and disseminated through the Enlightenment . John Locke , whose political thinking was based on a series of “Protestant-Christian assumptions”, guided fundamental equality between people, including gender equality (Adam and Eve), from ( Gen 1.26  EU ) to ( Gen 1.28  EU ) ( Imago Dei ). Locke concluded, among other things, that since all people are created equally free, every government needs the consent of the governed.

The reports of acephalous (“domination-free”) and consensus-democratically organized indigenous peoples of the colonial era were often in stark contrast to the strict hierarchical structures of Europe at that time and brought new aspects to European thought through corresponding cultural comparisons . They promoted the utopias of equality of the time. The following quote from a Tionontati Indian from the end of the 17th century in an interview with the French Baron de Lahontan provides a vivid example:

“No, you are unhappy enough already, and I really can't see how you could get any more unhappy. What kind of person may the European be? […] Seriously, dear brother, I feel sorry for you from the bottom of my soul. [...] I am master of myself and of what is mine. […] Your body and soul, on the other hand, are condemned to depend on your great commander; your governor has you; you don't have the freedom to do what you feel like doing; you are afraid of robbers, false witnesses, murderers and so on, and you are the servant of innumerable people who, thanks to their position, are allowed to command you. Is that true or not? "

Like Locke about a hundred years earlier, the American Declaration of Independence established equality, (right to) life , freedom and the pursuit of happiness from the biblical belief in creation . Human rights do not have their roots in the idea of ​​the autonomous human being, rather they are theonomic ideas that were widespread in America in the late 18th century ( Equality by creation ). Locke's inference from the principle of equality that any government needs the consent of the governed was used by the American revolutionaries as a justification for their separation from the British monarchy.

For Jean-Jacques Rousseau , justice meant realizing the equality and freedom that are innate in humans. He was critical of private property and the division of society into those who have and those who do not. “No society can exist without exchange; no exchange without common measure and no common measure without equality. So, as a first law, every society must have some conventional equality, either between people or between things. Conventional equality between men, which is very different from natural equality, requires positive (or posited) law, i. H. Government and Laws. "

The French declaration of human and civil rights was no longer based on belief in creation, but on the utilitarian concept of "common benefit" (utilité commune), although two of the three catchwords of the French Revolution - égalité, liberté - come from the American declaration of independence. From this document, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights of the United States and the French Revolution, the idea of ​​equality, along with other fundamental rights, was incorporated into the constitutions of many countries around the world and into the Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations .

Immanuel Kant derived innate equality directly from freedom. He declared with the categorical imperative: "Act in such a way that the maxim of your will can at any time also apply as a principle of general legislation". According to Kant, innate equality is “the independence of not being connected to more than what one can mutually connect to; hence the quality of man to be his own master (sui juris). "

In the 20th century, John Rawls formulated principles for social equity . What one is not responsible for should not be a criterion for distribution. According to Rawls, differences due to natural talent and social circumstances should be compensated. An unequal distribution of social goods is fair if it results from the actions and decisions of the person concerned. Everyone should have an equal right to the greatest possible freedom in dealing with institutions, which is compatible with the same freedom for all. Institutional-induced social inequalities are arbitrary unless they work to the benefit of all. The positions and offices with which these inequalities are connected or through which they arise should, according to Rawls, be open to everyone. “Social and economic inequalities must meet two conditions: first, they must be linked to offices and positions that are open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity ; and second, they must bring the most benefit to the least favored members of society (principle of difference). "

Equality before the law

Égalité - the equality, 1793, German Historical Museum Berlin

Equality is a fundamental characteristic of justice . It is a constitutional right in Germany and many other countries. What is essentially the same is the same and what is essentially different is to be treated unequally. A distinction must be made between equality and equality . When two objects are “the same” cannot be defined in a general-abstract way, but is determined by the evaluative subordination under a common generic term ( genus proximum ). The direction of view of the relevant observer is decisive in this respect. Any unequal treatment identified thereafter requires justification; in particular, it must not be arbitrary. First of all, it must be checked whether a permissible differentiation criterion was used as a basis, i.e. whether the unequal treatment can be based on this distinction. In Germany, for example, differentiation based on the attributes of gender, descent, race, language, homeland and origin, faith, religious and political views mentioned in Article 3, Paragraph 3 of the Basic Law is not permitted. Nobody may be disadvantaged because of a disability. If a permissible differentiation criterion has been selected, the remaining distinguishing features ( differentia specifica ) must be weighed against each other.

“The general principle of equality in Article 3 (1) of the Basic Law requires the legislature to treat essentially the same equally and essentially unequal unequally (cf. BVerfGE 120, 1 <29>; 122, 210 <230>; established case-law). It applies to unequal burdens as well as unequal benefits (see BVerfGE 116, 164 <180>; 122, 210 <230>). The general principle of equality results in different limits for the legislature, depending on the subject matter of the regulation and the differentiating features, which range from a mere prohibition of arbitrariness to a stricter binding to requirements of proportionality (see BVerfGE 116, 164 <180>; 117, 1 <30>; 120, 1 <29>; 123, 1 <19>; established case-law). For the requirements for reasons of justification for legal differentiations, the extent to which the unequal treatment of persons or circumstances can have a detrimental effect on the exercise of freedoms protected by constitutional rights is essential (cf.BVerfGE 105, 73 <110 and 110>; 112, 164 < 174>; 122, 210 <230>; established case-law). More precise standards and criteria for the conditions under which the legislature violates the principle of equality cannot be determined abstractly and generally, but only in relation to the different subject and regulatory areas concerned (see BVerfGE 112, 268 <279>; 122, 210 <230>; stRpr). "

- Federal Constitutional Court of the Federal Republic of Germany

Use of language

In German there are several ways to express equality or agreement. Often a distinction is made between the "identity of the thing" and "belonging to the same genus", which is indicated by the demonstrative pronouns "same", "same", "same" (identity) or "the same" (equality) can be expressed. However, since the context often provides information about the type of relation, a strict distinction is not made in these cases between “the same” and “the same”, which is not always necessary according to the Duden language advice. For example, in the sentence “They both wear the same pants”, the context shows that we are talking about two pants that are indistinguishable with regard to certain characteristics. Likewise, in the description “every day at the same time” (or “at the same time”) it is clear from the context that this is an appointment that is repeated every 24 hours. Without sufficient context, misunderstandings can arise with this usage. A sentence like “My neighbor drives the same car as me” can also mean that both of them use a single existing vehicle alternately. To make it clear that both use a car of the same manufacturer and type, Duden-Sprachberatung is of the opinion that one should always say: “My neighbor and I drive the same car.” In English, “the same” ( the equal one ) and "identical" ( the identical one ) distinction, but usually they say just the same one , which is both "the same" means and "the same".


In contrast to everyday language usage , equality in mathematics not only denotes a match in essential features, but complete identity .

general usage mathematical usage accordance
a is the same as b
a is identical to b
a is equal to b
a = b
All statements about a also apply to b and vice versa.
a and b are the same a and b are congruent a and b correspond in the relevant properties in the respective context.
a and b are similar to each other a and b are equivalent a and b match in one or more properties.

This table is intended to give a first rough overview of the typical usage in mathematical usage - in contrast to general usage. Since the terms of common colloquial language are not precisely defined and it is also not defined which properties are “relevant” in a context, no conclusions can be drawn from the table for the use of language in individual cases. Only their definitions are decisive for the mathematical terms.

Economics and Econometrics

Many measures of unequal distribution in social science statistics are based on the equality of income distribution , wealth distribution and the distribution of resources. However, this does not mean that equal distribution is the "goal" of recording inequalities. In the realm of material inequalities, the state of complete equality exists only as a reference for measuring inequalities in the real world. In econometrics, the degree of inequality is measured using various measures for the unequal distribution of wealth and income as the distance between the current distribution of resources and the theoretically achievable equal distribution. The most commonly used are the Gini coefficient , the Hoover inequality , the Theil index, and the Atkinson measure . The last two indices belong to the class of entropy measures and are increasingly used in econometrics and sociometry. They are not based on norms, but refer to the concept of entropy as it is defined in thermodynamics and information theory. As such, they characterize the missing information in order to be able to deduce the microstate of the system from a known macrostate , or in other words, the number of accessible, energetically equivalent microstates.

See also


  • Irene Becker: Social justice - a magical square. Ed. Sigma, Berlin 2009.
  • Nicole Burzan : Social Inequality. An introduction to the central theories. VS, Wiesbaden 2007.
  • Cornelius Castoriadis : Value, Equality, Justice, Politics. From Marx to Aristotle and from Aristotle to us. In: Cornelius Castoriadis: Through the labyrinth. Soul, reason, society. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1981, pp. 221-276.
  • Ralf Dahrendorf : About the origin of inequality among people. Mohr-Siebeck, Tübingen 1966.
  • Rolf W. Göldel: The doctrine of identity in German logic science since Lotze. A contribution to the history of modern logic and philosophical systematics. Hirzel, Leipzig 1935.
  • Stefan Gosepath : Equal justice. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2004.
  • Dagmar Herwig: Equal treatment and equalization as competing models of justice. Fink, Munich 1984.
  • Otfried Höffe (Ed.): John Rawls, A theory of justice. 2nd Edition. Academy, Berlin 2006.
  • Edmund Husserl : Philosophy of Arithmetic. With additional texts (1890–1901). Editor Lothar Eley. Martinius Nijhoff, The Hague 1970.
  • Wolfgang Kersting : Theories of Social Justice. Metzler, Stuttgart 2000.
  • Thomas S. Kidd: God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. New York, NY, 2010, ISBN 978-0-465-00235-1 .
  • Paul Kirchhof : The Measure of Justice. Droemer, Munich 2009.
  • Michael Kloepfer : Equality as a constitutional question. Berlin 1980, ISBN 3-428-04750-8 .
  • Hans-Peter Müller, Bernd Wegener (Hrsg.): Social inequality and social justice. Leske and Budrich, Opladen 1995.
  • Thomas Nagel , Michael Gebauer (Ed.): A treatise on equality and partiality and other writings on political philosophy. Schöningh, Paderborn; Munich; Vienna; Zurich 1994, ISBN 3-506-76097-1 (original title: Equality and Partiality. 1991).
  • John Rawls : Justice as Fairness. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2006.
  • John Rawls: A Theory of Justice. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1996.
  • Dieter Redlich: The idea of ​​equality from the spirit of the aristocracy. Philosophical Theory, Utopian Fiction, and Political Practice in Ancient Greece. Lang, Bern 1999, ISBN 3-906762-94-7 .
  • Max Salomon: The concept of justice in Aristotle. Sijthoff, Leiden 1937.
  • Bernhard HF Taureck : Equality for the advanced. Fink, Paderborn 2010.
  • Jeremy Waldron: God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations in Locke's Political Thought. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 2002, ISBN 978-0-521-89057-1 .
  • Michael Walzer : Spheres of Justice. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1998.
  • Reinhold Zippelius : The principle of equality. In: Publications of the Association of German Constitutional Law Teachers. Volume 47, p. 7 ff. De Gruyter, Berlin 1989.

Web links

Wiktionary: equality  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Inequality  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Kurt Raaflaub: Discovery of Freedom. 1985, p. 115 f.
  2. On both types of equality cf. Aristotle, Pol. 1302a 7 f.
  3. H.-D. Wendland: slavery and Christianity. In: Religion Past and Present . 3. Edition. Volume VI, Tübingen, 1962, column 101.
  4. ^ Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius suum cuique tribuendi. See Ulpian: Corpus Iuris Civilis, Digest 1, 1, 10.
  5. ^ W. Breach of values: Human rights. In: Religion Past and Present. 3. Edition. Volume IV, column 869.
  6. Jan Weerda: Calvin. In: Evangelisches Soziallexikon. 3rd edition, Stuttgart 1958, column 210.
  7. ^ Clifton E. Olmstead: History of Religion in the United States. Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1960, pp. 9-10.
  8. Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan . Translated by Jacob Peter Mayer, 2006, p. 153.
  9. Jeremy Waldron, God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations in Locke's Political Thought. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 2002, ISBN 978-0-521-89057-1 , pp. 13, 22-25.
  10. Jeremy Waldron: God, Locke, and Equality, 136.
  11. Andreas Heyer (possibly publisher): Social utopias of the modern age: bibliographical manual, volume 2. Lit-Verlag Münster, 2009. ISBN 978-3-8258-1997-2 . P. 536.
  12. TC McLuhan: ... Like the breath of a buffalo in winter. Hoffman and Campe, Hamburg 1984. p. 56.
  13. 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 (Declaration of Independence, Preamble ).
  14. ^ W. Breach of values: Human rights. Pn: Religion in the past and present. 3. Edition. Volume IV, columns 869-870.
  15. ^ Thomas S. Kidd: God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. New York, NY, ISBN 978-0-465-00235-1 , pp. 6-7, 131 ff.
  16. ^ “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (Declaration of Independence, Preamble).
  17. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Emil or about education. Translated by Ludwig Schmidts, 2001, p. 186.
  18. W. Wertbruch: Menschenrechte, in: The religion in history and present, 3rd edition, Volume IV, column 870.
  19. DK Stevenson: American Life and Institutions. Stuttgart, 1987, ISBN 3-12-513600-8 , p. 34.
  20. G. Jasper: United Nations. In: Religion Past and Present. 3. Edition. Volume VI, columns 1328-1329.
  21. Immanuel Kant: Metaphysik der Sitten , in: Complete Works, Volume 7, 1868, p. 34 f.
  22. John Rawls: Justice as Fairness. A new draft, 2003, p. 78.
  23. Compare Aristotle , Nikomachische Ethik , 1131a, p. 10 ff. On the equal treatment of equals.
  24. BVerfG, 1st Senate, decision of October 12, 2010, Az. 1 BvL 12/07.
  25. a b Duden-Sprachberatung ( Memento of August 23, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), Newsletter of July 23, 2004
  26. Duden - German Universal Dictionary, 6th edition, Lemma "Time".