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Now, it isn’t clear to me why capacities that are inadequate by themselves as a basis for equality, suddenly become adequate when brought together. Take the profoundly intellectually disabled. There are some men and women in whom we might be hard-pressed to identify any one of these capacities. Moral “responsiveness” of a Kantian kind? Rationality of a Lockean kind? Autonomy of a Millian kind? Yet why, if none of these properties can be found on their own, would they work better when combined? Surely, 0 + 0 + 0 = 0.

Waldron recoils at the idea that the intellectually disabled person is not our equal (and therefore can, with impunity, be treated as an animal). His response is to retreat to the notion of potential. The profoundly disabled, he avers, have the potential for all these capacities. But what if they don’t? What if they will never lead an autonomous life? Waldron wriggles again: in these cases, “the potential has been damaged or frustrated”. Desperate to see off the famous speciesist charge of Peter Singer — that the exalted status we confer upon ourselves is merely our unfounded partiality for our own species — Waldron unconvincingly clings onto the capacities approach.

But there’s an even more fundamental problem with the capacities approach than this. When we make the identification of capacities the basis for equality we find ourselves totally divorced from the concrete reality of mutual recognition.

Return to Rashdall: if he was for turning at all, would evidence of IQ have swayed him? Would the submission of test scores have held out any hope of transforming his perspective? Would that have revealed to him the essential sameness between himself and “the lower races”? Absent in One Another’s Equal is any sense of equality as belonging and, relatedly, of the recognition of equality as an epiphany that occurs between people. Instead the model we are given is formal and abstract, more like collecting data for judgments to be made than compelling exposure to the actual presence of another.

Michael Ignatieff’s Ordinary Virtues, purports to be the kind of corrective to Waldron’s approach which is urgently required.

Ignatieff is a rare breed in the academy: at once an intellectual and a practitioner. He made his name in academia as a liberal political theorist and biographer of Isaiah Berlin, but has also made an outing in politics. He has written about the historic origins of human rights discourse, but is also an activist.

All of which made him the right man for the job when the Andrew Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs decided to do something special to commemorate its centenary — namely, get out of the classroom, travel the world for three years and better understand how ethics shapes the judgments of ordinary people.

Andrew Carnegie’s guiding belief was that the economic globalisation which had brought him such wealth ((he was at the time of founding the Council the richest man in the world) would draw in its train “moral globalisation” — an integration of belief systems across the globe. Ignatieff’s not unambitious project was to see, a hundred years on, whether Carnegie’s prophecies have been realised. Not being able to visit everywhere, Ignatieff picked seven destinations — Jackson Heights, New York, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Bosnia, Myanmar, Fukushima and South Africa.

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