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Affirmative Action

Autor:   •  December 18, 2016  •  Research Paper  •  2,090 Words (9 Pages)  •  276 Views

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Liu Ting 2014141051056

Professor Peng

Reading and Discussion

11 June 2016


     Affirmative action was first introduced to the United States by President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s. It is a policy designed to give preferential treatment to women and minorities mainly in the areas of employment and education in which they are disadvantaged and underrepresented for historical reasons such as slavery and oppression. Although it attempts to eliminate discrimination against minorities and women and promote social equality, it has generated intense controversy since its inception. Opponents argue that affirmative action promotes laziness, causes “reverse discrimination” and runs contrary to equal rights. Proponents maintain that affirmative action is justifiable because it corrects for the testing gaps, compensates for past wrongs and promotes diversity. This paper focus on defending affirmative action. It consists of introduction, text and conclusion. The introduction deals with the possibility and reason of selecting this subject. The text presents four points to justify affirmative action by applying philosophical ideas of Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, John Rawls and Aristotle. The conclusion is that affirmative action is justifiable in that its benefits outweigh its disadvantages, it is done out of good purpose instead of prejudice, it does not violate individual rights and it is consistent to the telos of companies, schools and other social institutions.

Key words: Affirmative Action; Jeremy Bentham; Immanuel Kant; John Rawls; Aristotle


During the 1950’s and 1960’s, there were major changes in civil rights taking place in the United States. To eliminate discrimination and promote equality, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which required employers "not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin". In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, which shifted the way of achieving equality through nondiscrimination alone to affirmative action—giving preferential treatments to minorities and women in selection processes. The action has existed for more than half a century during which hot debates about its justification have never stopped because it is entangled with distributive justice and morality. After reading Michael Sandel’s masterpiece Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do, the author finds that many philosophical ideas mentioned in the book can be applied to defend for affirmative action, among which are Utilitarianism, Immanuel Kant’s idea about the moral worth of an action, John Rwals’s Moral Arbitariness and Entitlements and Aristotole’s teleology.

  1. Utilitarianism

According to Jeremy Bentham, founder of Utilitarianism, morality consists in weighing costs and benefits. “The highest principle of morality is to maximize happiness and the right thing to do is whatever will maximize utility” (Sandel 34). Affirmative action is moral because its overall benefits outweigh its disadvantages. Generally speaking, there are four disadvantages of affirmative action. First, it promotes laziness of minorities because they are given preferential treatments in selections so they don not need to struggle as hard as before. Second, it lowers standards for education and employees because people who benefit from this action are usually considered not qualified enough for a position compared with their white counterparts. Third, it causes reverse discrimination for it may exclude some qualified white people in selections. Finally, it intensifies ethnical divisions for it distinguishes minorities from the citizen. But, an unquestionable fact is that no matter in what situation, the quota for minorities is severely restricted. Majorities still dominate in workplaces and educational institutions. For example, according to investigation, when there are ten jobs available, at most three of them will be given to minorities. This indicates that these disadvantages exist in a very limited range. On the contrary, the benefits it generates are of wide range. It does not only benefit minorities, but also benefit the whole society at the cost of few majorities. In the first place, affirmative action promotes diversity in a college class or on a corporate board. As a result, minorities and majorities are able to learn more from each other and understand each other, which contributes to a harmonious society. In the second place, affirmative action creates a better and more equitable society. On the one hand, since minorities are disadvantaged due to historical and social reasons, affirmative action levels the playing field between minorities and majorities, which promotes social equality. On the other hand, because of affirmative action, more minorities are able to involve in politics such as law making and policy setting. Consequently, laws and policies that directly affect the society will be more representative and equal. For example, in a law school class discussion of reproductive rights, a class composed of mixed race and gender can present more comprehensive and insightful ideas than a class that is comprised entirely of white males. Furthermore, giving preferential treatments to minorities makes them grateful to the country, which contributes to solidarity. All in all, affirmative action generates profound positive effects at the cost of few people. Since the benefits of it outweigh the costs, it is moral.


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