General Versus Special Theories of Discrimination

Journal of Moral Philosophy 18:265-298 (2021)
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In this paper, I distinguish between two types of normative accounts of discrimination – general and special – and argue for the former and against the latter. General accounts consider the moral status of discrimination in light of all of the reasons that apply to discrimination, and hold that these reasons are not unique to discrimination (for example, the reasons to bring about the greater benefit or prevent the greater burden, to give priority for people who are worse off, and to give people what they morally deserve). In contrast, special accounts argue that discrimination is objectionable due to factors that are especially salient in the context of discrimination (examples are the "deliberative" freedom of people to decide how to live without considering facts such as their race or sex, the message conveyed by discriminatory actions in terms of the moral status of people, and the mental states that accompany discriminatory actions). I argue that general accounts are more plausible than special ones, as foundational accounts of discrimination that determine its overall moral status (both types of accounts appear to suggest such accounts). One argument is that special accounts that suggest conclusions regarding the overall moral status of discrimination without considering all of the pertinent factors, especially general ones, are implausible. Another argument is that special accounts that claim that the factors that they highlight are basic are misguided since these factors are morally significant only if, and to the degree to which, they are derived from general ones.



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Re'em Segev
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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