• Emily Rose Seeber

PP4C (Political Philosophy for Children): Equality


Today held a new challenge for me. I went over to Dunhurst (our Prep school), and gave a talk on 'Equality'. I have written before about how hard I find public speaking, but public speaking to eight year olds.... terrifying!

I decided to talk about equality and distributive justice (ways of fairly sharing out wealth in society). Big topics for fairly little people. But I really believe that if you ask big questions the right way you can get people of every age thinking more critically, and reasoning more logically.

1. Does equality matter?

We started off by comparing equality - the doctrine that every person should have the same amount of wealth - to sufficiency - the doctrine that everyone should have enough to live a good life. To argue for sufficiency I used Frankfurt's thought experiment which shows equality breaks down under conditions of scarcity:

However, we then compared the following situations in which more units of medicine - where the more you have the easier and more pleasant your life becomes - become available (but not enough to save another life).

The students enthusiastically voted for the second option, and that equality does matter.

2. Is more equality more important than more wealth?

To answer this question we analysed a range of scenarios in which half the students were rich (they had 20 units), and half were poor (they had 10 units), and evaluated whether or not this was better or worse than everyone having 18, 15, 13, or 10 units. As expected, as the numbers declined, students started to stick with the inegalitarian option.

We then started to think about situations where inequality might be justified.

Imagine the only worldly resource available to Small and Large is a blanket without which they would both freeze to death. If the blanket were divided equally, Small could wrap himself up twice, and Large would be unable to cover himself fully resulting in significant discomfort. However, if the blanket were divided into unequal shares both could cover themselves fully and be equally comfortable.

Here the students took the side of the 'welfarist egalitarian' with the majority voting for an unequal distribution to take need into account, suggesting that inequality of wealth is justified where people have different needs, such as physical disabilities.

3. Is taxation a form of slavery?

Having read Nozick's account of taxation as forced labour, or slavery, we got on to the eye lottery thought experiment. This was the most complex, and probably the most fun of the various thought experiments we looked at.

For this I called up a poor girl and suggested that she was blind. We then held a lottery to find an eye donor. The perspective donor was unwilling to give up her eyes. Unsurprisingly. We then all imagined that the eyes we had in our heads were actually on loan to us from the government and repeated the experiment. All donors were still unwilling.

So we suggested that taxation is not unpopular because it is taking something of ours, but because we don't like to be interfered with. So overall taxation is not like slavery, because we can avoid it by working less, it does not infringe on our rights over our minds, and slavery does more than interfere with our lives.

The students were phenomenally engaging. They were clearly getting a kick about thinking about such open ended ideas, and asked some really pertinent questions at the end (mainly about taxes). It was such a lovely opportunity to be able to go over there, and engage with a different audience. And I think I might slowly be getting over my fear of public speaking.

#assembly #politicalthought

© 2017 by Emily Rose Seeber.