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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.
- Aggressive recruitment of qualified black applicants
- Training programs aimed mainly at blacks
- Choosing the black applicant from among equally qualified applicants
- Giving a small 'plus' to black applicants
- Good faith efforts to hire a certain number of black employees
- Quotas for hiring blacks with little regard for qualifications
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.