Bush Janine defines affirmative action as “public or private program designed to equalize hiring and admissions opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups by taking into consideration those very characteristics which have been used to deny them equal treatment” (115). There are ongoing debates on the legality of preferential treatment of minority groups living in the United States. Some ethical arguments posit that affirmative action plans are just while others contradict this viewpoint.
Ethical Argument in favor of Affirmative Action Policies
Affirmative action policies can be justified on the basis of three main types of ethical theories: Justice; democracy; and social utility. Beauchamp and Bowie present an argument in favor of affirmative action. According to them, minority groups have experienced prolonged periods of injustice; hence they play a very limited role in social and economic activities in the US (325).
Thus, affirmative action policies in university admissions and employment are part of the reward for past injustice against the minority groups for slavery and other forms of prejudice. Democracy is also used to justify affirmative action in the US. Post argues that the promotion of democratic system in the society justifies affirmative action policies in universities’ admissions (23).
He argues further that the universities “aspire to cultivate the remarkable and difficult capacity to regard oneself from the perspective of the other” (Post 23). Thus, affirmative action allows a learning institution to admit the best students from the White and Colored population (Issacharoff 675).
With respect to social utility, Dworkin presents a modern argument as a justification for affirmative action policies (2). He suggests that the aim of the affirmative action policies are to rectify “the current prejudice against minority groups in the US by promoting parity and the tenets of utilitarian ethics” (Dworkin 4). Anderson also states that the racial assimilation of mainstream institutions is critical to alleviate the current chauvinism against the minority in the US (1196).
Ethical Argument against Affirmative Action Policies
There are a number of authors who censured the affirmative action strategies on basis of the utilitarian ethical premise. One of the main reason suggested by Shaw and Barry is that affirmative policy contravenes the rights of the Whites as they are punished by a social policy that seek to rectify “past prejudices done by their forebears” (23).
Sowell argued that affirmative action might suggest that the minority groups are incompetent and thus unproductive (3). This implies that they don’t deserve to be admitted to the university or be offered an employment opportunity on the basis of their skills and personal effort. Loury opposes the suggestion that the minorities be given preferential treatment on the basis of the enormous income gap between the Whites and the non Whites US citizens (5).
He states further that, “Another reason for being skeptical about the practice of affirmative action is that it can undercut the incentives for blacks to develop their competitive abilities” (Loury 6). The minority groups in the US generally discriminated with respect to employment opportunities (Alba 544).
However, Arnold argues against affirmative action policies that seek to ensure that blacks are not discriminated in the labor market (7). His argument is based on the fact that the minorities harmed by past prejudices are dead thus they can’t be compensated. He also states that incidences of racial bias in the US are minor and manageable (Arnold 7). Finally, Soni states that affirmative action makes minority workers incompetent since they are employed and promoted for posts which they are unqualified (578).
Alba, Richard, and Logan, John. How Segregated Are Middle-Class African Americans? Social Problems 47.4(2000): 543-558.
Anderson, Elizabeth. Integration, Affirmative Action, and Strict Scrutiny. NYU Law Review 77(2002): 1195-1271.
Arnold, Denis. Affirmative action and the demands of justice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998. Print
Beauchamp, Tom. & Bowie, Norman. Ethical theory and business. Eds. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2004. Print
Bush, Janine. Affirmative action in Australia: A consensus-based dialogic approach. NWSA Journal Fall 10.3 (1998): pp. 115-135.
Dworkin, Ronald. Affirmative Action: Does it Work? Affirmative Action: Is it Fair? In SovereignVirtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2002. Print
Issacharoff, Samuel. Can Affirmative Action be defended? Ohio State Law Journal 59 (1998): 669-695.
Loury, Glenn. “How to Mend Affirmative Action.” The Public Interest, August 5, 1997.
Post, Robert. Race and Representation: Affirmative Action. Eds. New York: Zone Books, 1998. Print
Shaw, William, and Barry, Vincent. Moral Issues in Business. Eds. Belmont: Wadworth, 2004. Print
Soni, Vidu. (1999). Morality vs. mandate: Affirmative action in employment. Public Personnel Management 28.4 (1999): 577-598.
Sowell, Thomas. “The Other Side of Affirmative Action,” Jewish World Review, June 8, 1999