|All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.|
Concepts and Ideas
Equality is a concept that has been subject to philosophical investigation throughout time, as exemplified by the following literary excerpts and fragments that date from as early as the first century BC and extend, through the writings of thinkers such as Montaigne, Hobbes, Locke and Kant, to the modern day.
Vajrasuci, Attributed to Avaghosa First century B.C to first century A.D, Sanscrit
This, too, should be taken into account. Just as there is no distinction of classes among the fruits produced by one tree ... in the form: this is Brahmana fruit, this is Ksatryia fruit, etc., because they are all produced by one tree, even so there is no distinction [of classes] among men because they are all created by one Supreme Being.
Montaigne Essays 1580-88
The souls of emperor and cobblers are all cast in one same mould. Considering the importance of princes actions, and their weight, we persuade ourselves they are brought forth by some as weighty and important causes; we are deceived: they are moved, stirred and removed in their motions by the same springs and wards as we are in ours. The same reason that makes us chide and brawl and fall out with any of our neighbors, causeth a war to follow between princes; the same reason that makes us whip or beat a leckey maketh a prince (if he apprehend it) to spoil and waste a whole province. They have as easy a will as we, but they can do much more. Alike desires perturb both a skin-worm as an elephant.
Thomas Hobbes Leviathan (1651)
Nature hath made man so equal, in the faculties of the body and mind, as that though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man and man is not so considerable, as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend , as well as he.
John Locke The Second Treatise of Government (1690)
A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same facilities, should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjunction, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.
Immanuel Kant The Principles of Political Right (1793) From Hayden 111
The civil state, then, regarded merely as a social state that is regulated by righteous laws, is founded upon the following rational principles:
1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens
Men are born, and always continue, free and equal in respect of their rights.
Note that Article 1 bears a striking resemblance to these words, and in fact several commentators and scholars have suggested that the article was based directly on the French Declaration. (see Morsink at 115)
See UNESCO, The Birthright of Man at 268.
See also Hayden at 58, 111.
Peter Danchin, Columbia University