The Declaration’s Missing Word

Many recent social conflicts might have been avoided if the American Declaration of Independence had added one simple word.

The Declaration’s second paragraph states the political ideals on which it was based:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness …”

When the Declaration was published, everyone in America’s British colonies knew what the text meant. The population was 90 percent British. They all shared the same culture, assumptions, and world-view. And of course, “men” meant “humans.”

But that word “equal” was too vague. It could mean a lot of things: some true, and some false. It was eventually going to cause trouble.

If we set aside what we are “supposed to believe” about equality and look at the facts, people are obviously not equal.

Some are tall, some are short; some are law-abiding, some are criminal; some are good at playing tennis, some are bad at it. Some are “people who menstruate,” and some are not.

And yet there is a sense in which human equality is true. All people who are smart enough to use language have the same basic human rights and human dignity. In that sense, they are equal. That’s what the Declaration missed: one word. It should have said:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal in that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness …”

Moral and legal equality are entirely consistent with reality. Equality in other ways is not.

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Political Science, Society and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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