The Foundations of Human Equality

University of Bern

22-24 September 2020

The workshop is hosted by the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Bern and organised by Stephanie Elsen and Andreas Müller. If you have any questions, please write to


The workshop’s topic

Most of us feel strongly committed to the basic moral equality of all human beings. Yet, none of the existing attempts to locate a non-arbitrary ground for this commitment have proved fully convincing. What is it in virtue of which all – though maybe not only – human individuals have a moral claim to have their interests equally taken into account against those whose actions might affect them?

One challenge that theories of human equality are often taken to face is to accommodate human individuals who belong to either of the following groups: individuals who do not yet have the capacities that are considered to be relevant for moral equality, or who have lost these capacities, or who do not have the relevant capacities at any time in their life (e.g., people with congenital ‘severe’ or ‘profound’ cognitive impairments). We encounter similar difficulties in all debates about basic normative categories, such as dignity, moral value, status, standing, considerability or recognition and respect. Nevertheless, these concepts are often used in grounding moral and legal claims, they play important roles in legal texts and declarations as well as in contributions from political and moral philosophy. Therefore, sharpening the discussions about the scope of these basic normative categories is an important desideratum.

The aim of the workshop is to provide an occasion for discussing central questions linked to the concept of human equality, such as:

  • How can we justify or explain our commitment to the idea that every human individual should be regarded and treated as a moral equal?

  • What exactly does it require to treat someone as a moral equal? Answers to this question often refer to an individual’s interests. But how should we understand an individual’s interests in this context, what content can they have, and how can we determine the class of interests that is relevant to being treated as a moral equal? 

  • Is it more plausible to draw the boundary of the community of moral equals based on specific capacities of or based on a specific relation among the members of that community? How can we argue for the moral relevance of one or the other?

  • Can we specify a way of relating to other human individuals that is not merely instrumentally valuable and whose value does not depend on reciprocity? Might the social needs of human individuals point us to such a valuable relation?

  • Some accounts of the community of moral equals also include non-human individuals. Should those accounts allow for differential treatment of those who are part of the community? If so, how can specific proposals meet this requirement?



Kimberley Brownlee
University of British Columbia

"Are We Worth It?

The Moral Status of

a Destructive Species"

Michael Cholbi
University of

"Equal treatment and pluralism about

moral standing"

Stephanie Elsen
University of

"The relation

that ultimately


Suzy Killmister
Monash University

"Constructing Moral Equality"

Nikolas Kirby
University of

"Equality in Judgment: Basic Equality as Liability to Judgment"

Costanza Porro
Universität Hamburg

"Moral Equality and Vulnerability: Towards a Relational Approach"

Andrea Sangiovanni
King’s College London/European University Institute

"Are We of Equal

Moral Worth?"


How we are planning to conduct the workshop online

All talks will be given live via Zoom, followed by a live Q&A, also in Zoom. All and only registered participants of the workshop will be able to join those Zoom sessions.


Because our speakers and participants are spread across multiple time zones, not everyone will be able to attend every talk while it is given. Therefore, we will also offer a way of watching the talks asynchronically. To that end, the Zoom sessions will be recorded and made available for streaming in the ‘Online Sessions’ area of the website, which is password-protected. Only registered participants will have access to those videos, and the videos will only be made available for the duration of the workshop.


In the ‘Online Sessions’ area, the talks are listed together with the Zoom links. Here we will also upload the recordings of the sessions, as well as handouts, slides, or papers if the speakers provide them in advance. If participants do not wish to be recorded during the Q&A session, they can let us know in the chat and we will pause the recording.


At the end of the workshop, there will be a dedicated discussion session for addressing overarching questions and drawing connections between the different talks. In addition, the schedule includes “coffee sessions” that everyone is invited to join for socializing over a cup of coffee or tea, which, sadly, we won’t be able to do in person. The Zoom links to the discussion and coffee sessions will also be posted in the ‘Online Sessions’ area.


Here below you can find the workshop programme.



Mit Unterstützung des Nachwuchsförderungs-Projektpools der Universität Bern