HKS Authors

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Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy


In one way of reading him, Thomas Hobbes – one of the founding spirits of modern political philosophy in the 17th century - thought it was a natural-law requirement that people recognize each other as equal although they are not. It is necessary for peace and the maintenance of society to do so. Only then can people escape from disastrous confrontations resulting from pride, contempt, and open disagreement about comparative worth. As Hobbes explains in his Elements of Law, equality “by nature” is not descriptive but a principle that “men considered in mere nature ought to admit among themselves,” or, as he says in framing this conclusion as a natural law: “Consequently, we are to suppose, that for peace sake, nature hath ordained this law, That every man acknowledge other for his equal. And the breach of this law, is that we call PRIDE.” So Hobbes’s natural men are neither “born” nor “created” equal. Still, they have good reason to mutually acknowledge each other as equals: that is the only way to fend off unending conflict about who is superior to whom and what that would entail.


Risse, Mathias. "Dangerous Science: Might Population Genetics or Artificial Intelligence Undermine Philosophical Ideas about Equality?" HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP20-017, June 2020.