The Journal of Ethics

, 15:265 | Cite as

“Group Rights” and Racial Affirmative Action

  • Kwame Anthony Appiah

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.


Affirmative action Collective rights Diversity Group rights Harm Identitarian harms Identity Membership rights Probabilistic harms Race 



I am grateful to J. Angelo Corlett for comments and suggestions on an earlier draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Princeton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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