There are many forms of discrimination still present in the modern day world. Many of these instances take place during the daily operations of business. The objective of this paper is to highlight the concept of affirmative action in the workplace, and explain why one person of gender or race would be hired over another more qualified for the position just to fulfill hiring requirements, while using Kantian and Utilitarian ethical theories to justify each side of the issue.
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Affirmative action policies can be described as any policies that attempt to actively dismantle institutionalized or informal cultural norms and systems of inscriptive group-based disadvantages, and the inequalities historically resulting from them. Also, any attempt to promote an ideal of inclusive community, as in ideals of democracy, integration, and pluralism, which is multiculturalism; by means that classify people according to their ascriptive identities, such as race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
One day there were two people who went to an interview for only one job position at the same company. The first person attended a prestigious and highly academic university, had years of work experience in the field and, in the mind of the employer, had the potential to make a positive impact on the company’s performance. The second person was just starting out in the field and seemed to lack the ambition that was visible in his opponent. Who should get the Job? Before 1964 this answer would be obvious, but with the adoption of the social policy known as affirmative action, the answer becomes unclear. Some would say that this new legislature is discriminating in itself. Though this was implemented for the retribution for the sufferings endured over time by minorities. Who was truly responsible for their persecution? If you were a Utilitarian you might say the white man is responsible, and to punish all of the white population in America. If you are a Kantian you might disagree. The individual white person is not responsible, so why punish them independently by hiring another less skilled so as to make up for the groups mistake. Penalizing the individual for the group to maximize their happiness, which is feeling better about themselves, is beyond doubt a Utilitarian insinuation.
Arguments for affirmative action policies can be divided into a couple different categories. First, arguments on grounds of justice defend affirmative action as a compensation or correction for past and continuing racism and sexism. This appears to be more on the Kantian side as to respecting an individual’s autonomy. Also, there are arguments on grounds of democracy view group-conscious representational devices as necessary under certain conditions for realizing a democratic society. This issue seems to be based on Utilitarian views. It seems to take advantage of a few to make the group more favorable in the eyes of the world. Another are arguments of social utility claim that affirmative action policies promote desirable goals such as better mentoring of members of disadvantaged groups or delivering professional services to the disadvantaged.
This almost comes off as a Kantian thought, but when you hire this minority to help mentor and aid the underprivileged group, this becomes a Utilitarian idea. You are still thinking of the group as a whole and not respecting this individual for their qualifications, or lack there of. Also, you are not showing consideration for the person that you chose not to hire, even though more competent, because you ignore this individual and decide to hire the other for the good of the company. Obviously, you are hurting one for the maximization of utility for yourself or the company. So Affirmative action in the workplace seems to be for the good of the group, rather than for respecting the individual’s autonomy.
Arguments against Affirmative action are as follows. First, there are numerous members of the white population who are not discriminating against minorities, yet are being punished because of those who do. Also, members of the non-minorities are being let go to make room so as to allow positions for minority workers. Then when these non-minority workers go look for jobs they must be more skilled and qualified than the minority member just to get the job. Is that not discrimination? We would love to say all people are equal no matter race, age, gender, but this is known to be untrue. But at what point do we start to say that we are all equal so as not to discriminate the supposed discriminators? Kantians would say that Affirmative action does not equally respect the non-minorities’ and the minorities’ autonomy. One is being hired because of a law for the greater of the whole. The other is not being hired for the greater of the whole. Affirmative action takes a strong Utilitarian stance.
The only way to give equal treatment on a universal level would be to rid the legislature of the Affirmative Action Act. This would be a step towards ending all discrimination, not just in the workplace. Kantian ideals and theories believe that everyone’s autonomy should be respected and affirmative action is in violation of this. We all need to think of each other as equals and this Act is holding the minorities from gaining their full equality. If anything this Act is keeping them from the ultimate goal of equality.
1. “ Affirmative Action at the University of California at Berkeley Online. October 28, 1996. http://pwa. acusd. edu/~e_cook/ucb-95. html “ Civil Rights” Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. (1996).
2. Nebraska Advisory Committee to the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights. Private Sector Affirmative Action: Omaha. Washington: 1979.
3. Introduction – A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory by Lawrence M. Hinman
Excerpted from: Lawrence M. Hinman, Contemporary Moral Issues, 2nd ed. (Prentice-Hall, 1999).