, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 265-280
Date: 26 Mar 2011

“Group Rights” and Racial Affirmative Action

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This article argues against the view that affirmative action is wrong because it involves assigning group rights. First, affirmative action does not have to proceed by assigning rights at all. Second, there are, in fact, legitimate “group rights” both legal and moral; there are collective rights—which are exercised by groups—and membership rights—which are rights people have in virtue of group membership. Third, there are continuing harms that people suffer as blacks and claims to remediation for these harms can fairly treat the (social) property of being black as tracking the victims of those harms. Affirmative action motivated in this way aims to respond to individual wrongs; wrongs that individuals suffer, as it happens, in virtue of their membership in groups. Finally, the main right we have when we are being considered for jobs and places at colleges is that we be treated according to procedures that are morally defensible. Morally acceptable procedures sometimes take account of the fact that a person is a member of a certain social group.

APA Eastern Division Meeting, 2009. Session on James Sterba Affirmative Action for the Future organized by the Committee on Black Philosophers.