Equality and Differences

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Fifty years ago this year a legal practitioner turned military intelligencer turned philosopher, Herbert Hart, published The Concept of Law, still deservedly best-seller in thought about law. It presents law, especially common law and constitutionally ordered systems such as ours, as a social reality which results from the sharing of ideas and making of decisions that, for good or evil, establish rules of law which are what they are, whether just or unjust. But right at its centre is a chapter on justice, informed by Hart’s professional knowledge of Plato and Aristotle and the tradition of civilized thought about justice, thought which he sums up like this: “the general principle latent in [the] diverse applications of the idea of justice is that individuals are entitled in respect of each other to a certain relative position of equality or inequality.” “Hence”, he goes on, “[the] leading precept [of justice] is often formulated as ‘Treat like cases alike’; though we need to add … ‘and treat different cases differently’”. This article will say something about three aspects of this vast topic: (i) about the factual basis and normative grounds of equality; (ii) about the proposed principle of equal concern; and (iii) about laws and social policies that pursue equality by selective prohibition of direct and indirect discrimination, and of harassment or vilification, victimisation and offence.
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