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Inequality remains one of the most popular topics in political, social, economic, and cultural literature. Dozens of philosophers and writers have presented their views on inequality, its origins and impacts. The diversity of views on inequality can hardly be underestimated. Nevertheless, many inequality issues remain unresolved. Over the course of this semester, different perspectives on inequality have been analyzed and their implications for the modern society have been explored. The views on inequality by Marx, Tocqueville, Weber, Nietzsche and others create a very multifaceted picture of inequality, which can be economic, social, or political. Based on the essays that were written during this semester, the main question is whether inequality can be regarded as normal. Despite the diversity of views and perspectives on inequality, the answer to this question is yet to be found.
One of the main things learned during this semester is that personal views on inequality vary greatly among individuals. Philosophers, economists and sociologists describe inequality from different perspectives. Karl Marx is well-known for his reliance on conflict sociology. As a result, in his view, inequality is both the source and result of social conflicts. Certainly, Marx's views on inequality are somewhat simplistic, since, according to him, the society has only two classes – the ruling one and the working one. It is a radical picture of the society's development, in which middle classes are absent. Marx views inequality as mostly economic and only then social. He is extremely negative about inequality as it reflects the selfishness of capitalist classes and their exploitation of working people. Undoubtedly, he considers inequality as abnormal and even undesirable, and only revolutions can help erase the boundaries between classes.
However, not everyone supports Marx. To a large extent, Marx represents a scientific minority that criticizes inequality as a source of discrimination and abuse. More often than not, philosophers perceive inequality as an essential by-product of countries' democratic development. At times, political association and political self-expression helps the developed world limit the scope of inequality. Tocqueville believes that inequality is primarily social, and not economic. Through political association and self-expression, the developed society motivates its citizens to participate in public life and express their voice in the most essential state's decisions. However, both economic and social types of inequality signify the existing imperfections in the developed society, and even political association cannot eliminate them.
Inequality may also be racial, and W.E.B. Dubois focuses on this aspect of the problem. As a Black sociologist and historian, as well as a person who lived at the times of severe racial discrimination, it comes as no surprise that Dubois is primarily interested in inequality in terms of race. It would be fair to say that his views on inequality complete the picture of the economic and social distinctions presented by Marx and Tocqueville. In Dubois's view, the problem of inequality is rooted in the fact that individuals judge one another by the color of their skin. At the same time, racial inequality cannot be separated from social and economic discrimination because race often leads to it. The American society has developed a series of laws and regulations to reduce the scope of discrimination by race or any other individual characteristics. As a result, Dubois's perceptions of inequality should also be considered in the context of the social and economic views presented by Marx and Tocqueville. Here, the views of Weber and Nietzsche stand out, at least because they neither support nor deny the inequality views presented by other economists, sociologists, and philosophers. Nietzsche votes for fairness for everyone, and presents the world as full of injustices. To some extent, this view reflects Marx's commitment to conflict, which describes the world as full of discrimination and capitalist unfairness. Weber, on the contrary, speaks about inequality as a matter of wage distribution and professional growth, also suggesting that political power can greatly contribute to the growing social gaps.
All these essays were written during one semester, and they teach a number of lessons about inequality. Firstly, all researchers and philosophers unilaterally assume that inequality exists. They all take the existence of inequality for granted. Even though some of them, like Tocqueville, try to present inequality in a positive light, they do not even try to argue that inequality is fictional or unreal. Inequality may come in many different forms. It can be economic, social, political, or racial. For Marx, it is economic and social; for Dubois, it is racial; for Weber, it is social and political; and for Tocqueville, it is economic and political. Regardless of its form, inequality remains an essential ingredient of everyone's life, and it is difficult to imagine that the developed society could grow without it.
Secondly, inequality is mostly presented as a combination of the economic and political aspects that give rise to social discrimination and power imbalances. Economic aspects include but are not limited to wages, professional growth, occupational opportunities, etc., while also accompanied by excessive or insufficient economic power and the uneven distribution of political voices among different classes. It is quite surprising that, when speaking about inequality, the researchers and philosophers studied in this class do not say anything about the class structure. They speak about possible roots of inequality, its nature and causes, but do not help understand how the society is structured. Only Marx says that the capitalist society was made of the working class and the capitalist class. Yet, and as mentioned earlier, this picture of the society's class structure is oversimplified.
Do the philosophers, whose works have been considered during this semester, provide any information as to whether at all inequality is natural and desirable? The answer to this question is not always clear. Marx is probably one of the few who expresses his indignation with class inequality. However, his indignation is based primarily on the perception that inequality is associated with conflict. Marx perceives the capitalist world as full of discrimination and abuse against the working class. This is why those who support Marxian approaches to inequality will almost certainly view it as unnatural and undesirable. Likewise, Dubois cannot conceal his rage when he speaks about the racial inequality and discrimination in the American society. It seems that the decision on whether inequality is normal depends mainly on the nature of inequality: if racial inequality is unacceptable and should be eliminated by all means, economic and social inequality may become an effective and reliable motive to work harder and move up the social ladder. Nevertheless, in all cases, inequality is associated with unfairness.
It is quite surprising that with so much information presented on inequality during this course, none of the philosophers proposed ways to make the society more equal. Is it that most philosophers perceive inequality as natural and ever-present in the developed world? Is it that they do not know how to deal with inequality? Is it that they take inequality as normal and even desirable for the society's continued growth? Answers to these questions are still to be given. It is clear that none of the methods ever proposed by philosophers will ever eliminate inequality. It is obvious that they will never come to any agreement in terms of the positive or negative nature of inequality. However, their views on inequality will inform public choices and provide a good basis for philosophic analysis. This is also one of the most essential lessons learned during this course.
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