Digest of terms

hierarchy

social ranking and differential treatment in accordance with varied criteria of merit, criteria that have traditionally included those of race, gender, slavery, wealth and power. In modern liberalism an emerging emphasis on equality and more egalitarian notions of justice have challenged many or perhaps most of these traditional forms of hierarchy as forms of negative discrimination. Yet elsewhere, not least in Hindu ethics with its emphasis on caste rankings, hierarchies of various kinds remain both entrenched and socially accepted, defenders pointing out that hierarchy is only natural, given the pecking orders found throughout the animal realm. Critics tend to concede that hierarchy is indeed acceptable provided that it is based on relevant differences between people (a professor of physics is legitimately senior to a laboratory assistant), but what counts as relevant may remain controversial, as also what may be thought to be legitimately entailed in terms of status or income. A link has been made between hierarchy and contrasting patterns of authority: an ascending pattern, from the grassroots up, legitimising forms of democracy and aspirations to greater social equality, and a descending pattern, from the top down, legitimising forms of hierarchy and obedience. This can have implications for religious ethics - compare the hierarchy in Roman Catholicism and the egalitarian ethic found among Quakers.

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