I N T R O

Intro to Compensation

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Not only does the phrase "affirmative action" mean different things to different people, but there are different arguments for and against it. The most controversial kind of affirmative action includes some sort of "preference" for black Americans when applying for jobs or to colleges and professional schools. Even here, however, affirmative action means different things; and the arguments vary. It is not even clear what counts as a preference. One type of justification for some affirmative action programs is based on the idea of compensation for past injustice. Compensation is one of the ideas that the speakers in our conversation need to talk about.


Compensation is not a new idea. Everyday morality often requires that if a person has been treated unjustly, whoever committed the injustice should undo it or repair the harm. We would all agree, for example, that if Bill stole Mary's bicycle, he should give it back or pay for it. But cases can get more complicated. Suppose Bill stole a truck belonging to Mary's business, and the business loses money until the truck is returned. Most of us agree that Bill should do more than return the truck. He should undo the harm that he caused. In short, everyday morality dictates that he has an obligation to compensate the victim of his actions.
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