Discussion Questions on Louis Pojman, "The Moral Status of Affirmative Action"

1. On pp. 176-77 Pojman distinguishes "discrimination," as the ability to judge one thing to differ from another on the basis of some criterion, from "prejudice." Here is what he writes about prejudice

  • [a]Prejudice is a discrimination based on irrelevant grounds. . . .A prejudicial discrimination in action is immoral if it denies someone a fair deal. [b] So discrimination on the basis of race or sex where these are not relevant for job performance is unfair. . . .There is a difference between prejudice and bias. Bias signifies a tendency toward one thing rather than another where the evidece is incomplete or based on nonmoral factors. . . .But [c] predjudice is an attitude (or action) where unfairness is present -- where one should know or do better, as in the case where I give people jobs simply because they are redheads. [the letter labels were added]

1a. Compare the sentences labeled [a] and [c]. How are they related? Has Pojman simply switched definitions or can [c] be derived from [a] plus additional premises.

1b. The sentence [b] begins with "So" and thus appears to be the conclusion to an argument. What is that argument?

1c. Consider the example I gave in class of a small grocer who hires his son or daughter to deliver groceries. Is this a case of "prejudice"? Is the parent-child relation an "irrelevant ground"? What should one conclude about Pojman's account of prejudice?

2. Pojman quotes John Arthur (p. 180), who argues, "Since we have no reason to believe that differences in performance can be explained by factors other than history, equal results are a good benchmark by which to measure progress made toward genuine equality." How does Pojman criticize this claim? When is it reasonable and when is it unreasonable to take inequalities in outcomes as evidence of inequalities in opportunities?

3. Pojman offers the following analogy (p. 181). The Green family devote their resources to educating their two children while the Blue family have 15 children and lack the means to take care of them, with the result that the Green's children are well-qualified and the Blue's children are poorly qualified. Pojman writes, "But now enters AA. It says that it is society's fault that the Blue children are not as able as the Greens and that the Greens must pay extra taxes to enable the Blues to compete. No restraints are put on the Blues regarding family size. This seems unfair to the Greens. Should the Green children be made to bear responsibility for the consequences of the Blue's voluntary behavior?"

3a. How good an analogy is this?

3b. What explanation does Pojman's analogy suggest for the fact that on average African American teens have lower SATs or ACTs? To what extent can the social facts be explained by the choices of parents?

3c. At the end of his essay, Pojman writes, "yet if we want to improve our society, the best way to do it is to concentrate on families, children, early education, and the like." Doesn't his analogy of the Greens and the Blues suggest that it would be unfair to use tax money for these purposes?

3d. Pojman's analogy suggests the following story of a behaviorist who was asked to explain why it is that Jews have traditionally loved learning. (For the purposes of the example, let us assume that the stereotype is accurate.) The behaviorist explained that Jew loved learning because Jewish mothers put a small amount of honey on the cover of the Jewish bible, which young children lick off. In that way Jews develop a love of books. Why is this inadequate as an explanation for why Jews love learning? What are the connections between the problems with this story and the problems with Pojman's account?

4. Pojman offers seven arguments for preferential hiring and admissions, all of which he criticizes, and 7 arguments against preferential hiring or admissions, none of which he objects to. So presumably he thinks that all of the arguments in defense of preferential hiring and admissions are weak and all of the argument against are strong. List these arguments and think about whether you agree with his assessment of each. Which of the arguments both for and against seems to you the strongest? Which seems the weakest?