By Selwyn Duke
October 2, 2013
Take a look at the following list and tell me if anything strikes you:
Viewing these, the Seven Cardinal Virtues, anything make an impression? Okay, now try the Seven Heavenly Virtues of:
Anything? What strikes me is that equality is not among them.
Scour great works, such as the Bible, and you won't find talk of equality. Not one bit -- that is, unless you consider The Communist Manifesto a great work.
One thing about virtues -- which are defined as "good moral habits" -- is that their exercise doesn't require the cooperation, or compulsion, of another person. I can cultivate prudence, temperance, courage and the other virtues in myself, and I can do it all by myself. So while a virtuous society is desirable, virtue can also be a purely personal goal. And this is one time when focusing on the self needn't be selfish, for we should take the log out of our own eyes before worrying about the speck in our brother's.
But equality is far different. Just as there can be no numerical equality without at least two numbers, there can be no human equality on an island with a population of one. And while you could increase patience through personal change, increasing equality necessitates societal change; it involves raising people up as much as they're able -- which requires their cooperation -- and insofar as they're unable, it involves bringing others down. This is where compulsion enters the equation. The point is that, unlike with virtues, increasing equality is always an endeavor of the collective.
Another quality of virtues is that, as Aristotle noted, their cultivation is necessary for a happy life. And lack of virtue in the collective can make life harder, such as when the government stifles just economic freedom (excessive regulation), suppresses truth (hate-speech laws) or imposes some other aspect of tyranny. We also want our survival needs fulfilled: enough food and water and a roof over our heads. And we'd like the opportunity to pursue proper pleasures and dreams and exercise our creative capacity. But is actual "equality" necessary for happiness?