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Affirmative action might include any of the following policies (and many others besides). Our moral judgments may be different for different policies.

It is not always clear what counts as a preference or whether we should use the word "preference" for affirmative action programs. Many people contrast preference with "equal opportunity;" but there are several plausible definitions of equal opportunity. Furthermore, it is not clear how different kinds of affirmative action relate to these different definitions.

If we have a good argument for affirmative action as compensation, then the word "preference" may not be quite right. If a court makes Bill pay Mary for harm that he did, does it show preference for Mary? Not ordinarily. If blacks have a right to compensation, should we call it preference? The word "preference" is used by Ariadne because it is convenient, but with the proviso that it may not be entirely accurate.

Some philosophers believe that compensation is limited to cases in which an injustice has occurred. Injustice itself is often limited to cases in which rights have been violated. If we take this familiar approach, we must have at least a rough theory of justice and rights in order to argue for compensation. If you apply this approach to race relations, you might argue first that racial discrimination is (or is not) a violation of the moral rights of black Americans. Then you could argue that there should (or should not) be compensation for that violation.