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Virtue Ethics and Affirmative Action

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1 Virtue Ethics and Affirmative Action
Philosophy 220 Virtue Ethics and Affirmative Action

2 Character vs. Acts Though historically speaking, Virtue Ethics is the first systematic, philosophical ethical position, it had until somewhat recently been pushed aside by the other ethical theories we’ve studied. One reason for this is that these other theories have focused our attention on the ethical evaluation of acts, while VE focuses on character. There are lots of (not necessarily all good) reasons to prefer the former.

3 An Ethic of Virtue The lack of attention (until recently) paid to VE has the result that there is still a great deal of disagreement about the basic structure of VE. We can say a few basic and uncontentious things about such theories. The first and most important one is the VE reverses the tendency that we’ve seen in other ethical theories and makes the concepts of virtue and vice basic. Right and Wrong become derivative concepts.

4 Virtue and Vice Virtue: “a trait of character or mind that typically involves dispositions to act, feel, and think in certain ways and that is central to a positive evaluation of persons” (25). Honesty, Courage, Justice, Temperance, Beneficence Vice: “a trait of character or mind that typically involves dispositions to act, feel and think in certain ways, and that is central to a negative evaluation of persons” (26). Dishonesty, Cowardice, Injustice, Intemperance, Selfishness

5 A TRC for Virtue Ethics On the basis of the distinction between virtues and vices, it is possible to articulate a general TRC for VE. An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent (acting in character) would not avoid doing in the circumstances under consideration. If a virtuous agent would do it, the action is obligatory; if they might do it, the action is permissible; if they wouldn’t do it, the action is forbidden. “Acting in character” points to the concept of “practical wisdom” and the significance of moral judgment/intuition for VE.

6 Advantages of VE It is consistent with our moral intuition that there may be more than one right answer in the face of a moral dilemma. It is not inconsistent with our conviction that traits of character are importantly out of our control, inasmuch as they are influences by genetics and circumstance. It encourages us to take a holistic view of our moral circumstances.

7 Disadvantages? What about the virtues and vices themselves?
Who is a virtuous agent? How do we know if they are “acting in character?” What if we lack a virtuous character?

8 Some Conceptual Clarification
Affirmative Action refers to any of a range of proactive attempts to correct inequalities due to race, biological sex, etc., by taking positive action on behalf of those who are disadvantaged. In the strict sense, AA refers to programs designed to ensure that there is no discrimination in employment or education and, instead, equal opportunity exists. When they go so far as to include enhancing the applicant pool by recruiting and supporting well-qualified candidates from the disadvantaged class, AA programs are characterized as Procedural Affirmative Action.

9 Beyond Affirmative Action
AA is typically distinguished from Preferential Treatment programs in which the disadvantaged characteristic is made a criterion of participation. Another approach is what has become known as a Quota System in which the inclusion of a specified number of individuals with the characteristic is mandated. A typically less offensive approach is the Set-Aside in which new opportunities are created for such individuals.

10 Justifying Affirmative Action
There are a number of very common arguments justifying AA programs, as well as PT, QS or SA. Justice Arguments. Historically, people from specific groups have been discriminated against. Classic AA is aimed at those programs. Role-Model Arguments. Part of participating in an occupation and opportunity is seeing it as a real possibility. Role models make that possible. Forward-Looking. AA creates opportunities for disadvantaged groups. Backward-Looking. AA serves as reparation for historical oppression.

11 Pojman on AA Though Pojman’s title suggests that his criticism is wide-ranging, he actually addresses only preferential treatment programs. One explanation for the gap is that while he thinks that strict and/or procedural AA programs are morally acceptable, he isn’t confident that they can be administered appropriately. With regard to PT programs, he considers and rejects both forward and backward looking justifications.

12 Forward-Looking Justifications
The metaphor which Pojman chooses to characterize F-L justifications is that of the “level playing field.” The argument is essentially that continuing economic and social disparities between whites and non-whites have wide-ranging negative implications for non-whites in economic and social competitions. In the face of these systemic and historical disparities, AA (or as Pojman would have it, PT) is justified on the basis of fairness.

13 The Issue is Class not Race
Pojman first of all acknowledges the extent and character of the disparities, between the poor and wealthy in our society. What this justifies, he thinks, is not PT based on race, but on class. This PT should include: need based education assistance; using class as a tie breaker.

14 The Laundry List Pojman then goes on to take a scatter shot approach to criticizing PT based on race. All the old favorites are here: PT causes stigmatization and sets people up to fail. PT produces a degradation in standards. I didn’t need PT. PT really doesn’t benefit the poor. People shouldn’t expect equal results because they are not equal (all sorts of questionable ethnic generalizations). PT is a disincentive to responsible parenting.

15 Forward-Looking Justifications Fail
Given these concerns, Pojman thinks that F-L justifications don’t succeed. Even if they did, however, Pojman insists that the discussion would not be over. This type of argument is essentially consequentialist, and thus is open to objections from the perspective of justice. Remember the justice objection to consequentialism?

16 Backward-Looking Justifications
The argument in favor of AA (or PT) is that historical harms inflicted on Americans of African descent by Americans of European descent require some sort of reparation and PT is an appropriate way of satisfying this obligation. As Pojman discusses this argument, the focus is the question of under what circumstances compensation is required.

17 Pojman on Compensation
The model that Pojman employs is what we could call agent-compensation. Agent A harms Agent B in some specific way C. The obligation to compensate is relative to the relation between A and B as reflected in the nature of C. Pojman is willing to extend this model to the social or group level, but only when it is possible to identify groups relevantly like agents. Criteria include: well-defined groups, specifiable harms.

18 The Case of African-American Reparation
On the basis of his account of compensation, Pojman has serious reservation about the adequacy of the justification of PT for Americans of African descent based on historical wrongs. States with specific discriminatory statutes may be liable, but not the U.S. government. Much of the discriminatory harm was perpetrated by individuals, not states. Not all blacks were harmed and not necessarily more than other ‘immigrant’ populations. Even if we could apply the compensation model to this case, it’s not clear that PT is an appropriate compensation.

19 Still… Pojman acknowledges that the agent- compensation model may not be sufficient (case of undeterminable agent) and thus B-L justifications may succeed. Even if they do, however, at most what they justify is AA, not PT. We don’t know what would happen in the counterfactual case. Competence is prima facie preferable in the case of important goods. Arbitrariness.

20 Those Who Harm Should Pay
Pojman’s rejection of B-L justifications seems to fly in the face of our intuition that those people who harm and unjustly benefit should pay the price. Pojman’s response is to insist that the benefit current members of society realize from past patterns of discrimination is unintended and it would be unfair to impose an obligation to discharge this harm on them.

21 Reverse Discrimination
A similar concern motivates his insistence that PT amounts to reverse discrimination. “Respect for persons entails that we treat each person as an end in himself or herself, not simply as a means to be used for social purposes…What is equally wrong about Affirmative Action is that it fails to treat White males with dignity as individuals, judging them by both their race and gender, instead of their merit” (280c2).

22 Hill “The Message of Affirmative Action”
Hill’s approach to the question of the moral status of AA is much different from Pojman’s. Though he too is critical of both forward and backward looking arguments justifying AA, he doesn’t dispute the force or scope of such arguments, but rather what these arguments suggest about the nature of racism or sexism. These arguments send the wrong message about racism and sexism, but other arguments, particularly ones that focus on the narrative realities of racism and sexism get the job done.

23 The Wrong Message: Forward- Looking Arguments
Considering first forward-looking arguments for affirmative action, Hill focuses on their typical employment of consequentialist justification. Hill identifies a number of problems with this approach. Legitimate questions have been raised about the capacity of AA to bring about the desired consequences. Focus on the consequences of AA programs requires us to include analysis of potentially undesirable consequences like those highlighted by Pojman. Most importantly, even if the consequences are in some desirable, the subtext of this approach implies that the individual who benefits is merely being used to bring about a desired consequence. Missing in this type of analysis is any account of the history or racism and sexism in this country, or of the continuing racist and sexist realities that we live in. The focus is on producing a certain end, not on why the end is morally desirable or obligatory.

24 The Wrong Message: Backward- Looking Arguments
Hill then turns to backward-looking arguments, which have tended to focus on the existence of a prima facie duty to reparation for past harms. Here too, Hill acknowledges the force of arguments like Pojman’s which have questioned the moral legitimacy of reparative efforts. Once again, however, it is the underlying message with which he is most concerned, a message which in this case implies that the individual who benefits is self- centered, merely “grasping for limited 'goodies’ (286c2)”

25 Elements of An Alternative
Hill suggests an alternative approach to issues like AA, grounded in a different understanding of the dimensions of moral analysis than typically employed by traditional moral theory. Values as “cross-time wholes” (287c1) reflect the historical character of our moral lives. Dependency of our evaluative concepts on history. Relevance of context. The whole is often greater than the parts. The alternative: “examin[ation of] lives and relationships, over time, in context, as organic unities evaluated (partly) in narrative terms’ (288c2). Example of John and Mary.

26 What does this mean for AA?
How does the example of John and Mary serve as the basis for a justification of affirmative action? An approach to affirmative action consistent with the alternative detailed by Hill would appeal to values such as “having a history of racial and gender relations governed, as far as possible, by the ideal of mutual respect, trust, and fair opportunity for all” (289c1). In this context, we have a narratively complex and morally adequate story to tell about AA that addresses itself meaningfully to all affected parties, that speaks to these central values (cf. 290c1-2).

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