Monday, January 2, 2017


The concept of "discrimination" is rooted in the formal principle of justice: "treat equals equally and unequals unequally." Unfortunately, the principle of equality often bumps heads with other moral principles; especially: the Liberty Principle, Utility Principle, and the Principle of Merit. 

Suppose that John Smith owns a store that sells guitars and hires only family members and close friends, all of whom happen to be young, guitar-playing, white heterosexual males. Stockholder Theorists argue that if John "owns" the store, then he has the liberty to hire whomever he chooses. However, one of the side-effects of exercising one’s liberty is that sometimes we make poor decisions and generate disutility. If John’s family and friends turned out to be incompetent, irresponsible thieves that know nothing about the guitar business, he would soon go bankrupt. That would be good news for all the other guitar stores that chose their workers based on impartial criteria such as job experience, knowledge of guitars, and honesty. Moreover, stockholder theorists argue that most of the time, discriminatory hiring and firing practices are punished by the free market, and therefore we do not need laws to enforce non-discriminatory business practices.

Stakeholder theorists argue that many corporations can survive and even thrive, for a long time despite discriminatory practices, therefore some government involvement is necessary to protect workers from discriminatory hiring and firing practices. Some job qualifications are regarded as bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQs) in the sense that they represent legitimate lines of meritorious competition. In at least some  contexts, the ability to play a guitar might be regarded as a bona fide requirement to sell guitars; while requiring that salesman to be a white, male guitar player might be discriminatory. In either case, the distinction between bona fide and discriminatory qualifications is contextual, and contingent upon moral argument.   

However, over the years some occupations have been monopolized by females such as: nursing, primary education, and sales. Some occupations have been monopolized by males, such as: manufacturing, mining, engineering, and professional football. Some professions are monopolized down racial lines such as professional football (blacks), baseball (Latinos), basketball (blacks), and hockey (whites). It is difficult for males to compete in occupations dominated by females, and it is difficult for females to compete in occupations dominated by males. But why?

Critics also observe that most of the highest paying jobs have been long monopolized by old, white males. Since the 1960s, the pay scales have certainly changed, but females and blacks still encounter that "glass ceiling" that prevents them from advancing to the higher paying jobs in many industries.

For the ethics of discrimination, there are several descriptive (factual) questions. Do at least some skills and aptitudes cluster around categories such as race, gender, age, nationality, or sexual preference? If so, why does this happen? Is it a bad thing? Do men and women, blacks and whites, oldsters and youngsters, heterosexuals and homosexuals (at least occasionally) bring different skills and/or aptitudes to the workplace; or are our beliefs about those skills and aptitudes based on false cultural beliefs and/or subtle, discriminatory cultural traditions? What role, if any, should government play in breaking down these cultural barriers? Should corporations be forced to hire based on sex, race, age, or sexual preference, even if that practice violates the liberty principle, the utility principle, or the principle of merit? 

Discussion Questions
1. Which of the following job descriptions seem to be obviously bona fide or discriminatory. Wanted: Good looking women with large breasts: strippers for a strip bar, secretary jobs, professional women's basketball team, brassiere salesman. Explain why.

2. Is job discrimination sometimes subtly brought about by unfair and or dis-utilitarian recruitment strategies? Would there be more males in nursing, if nursing schools recruited more male nursing professors, and recruited more male nursing students?

3. Is it discriminatory to refuse to hire workers that are unhealthy, morbidly obese, ugly, or smelly? Explain.

4. Should the WNBA hire at least some male players? Should the NBA hire at least some female players?

5. What is "reverse discrimination" in the workplace. Give an example.


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