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Equality of Opportunity and Affirmative Action

New paper by Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen. In: Sardoč, M. (eds) Handbook of Equality of Opportunity. Springer, Cham.



Equality of opportunity and affirmative action have a problematic relationship. Affirmative action can seem hard to square with formal equality of opportunity, but at the same time it is desirable because it promotes substantive equality of opportunity. This chapter shows that, on some interpretations, formal equality of opportunity is compatible with, indeed requires, affirmative action; and that on the interpretations where, in principle, it rules out affirmative action, it is not a fundamental requirement of justice. As regards substantive equality of opportunity, the chapter argues that, despite typically targeting groups, affirmative action generally promotes substantive equality of opportunity across individuals; that substantive equality of opportunity can be rooted both in a concern to meet the requirements of distributive justice and in concerns about relational equality; and that several common challenges to it either can be defeated or suggest closely related justifications of affirmative action policies. Hence, the notion that societies should protect and promote equality of opportunity provides a strong justification for affirmation action in the sense that it justifies affirmative action policies for many different groups across a wide range of different contexts. This justification is instrumental and contingent, however. In some contexts, some affirmative action schemes, and some groups, affirmative action does not promote substantive equality of opportunity across individuals, and, thus, the question of whether such instances of affirmative action are justified remains unanswered.