Direct Discrimination

Authored by: Frej Klem Thomsen

The Routledge Handbook of the Ethics of Discrimination

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138928749
eBook ISBN: 9781315681634
Adobe ISBN:


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The concept of discrimination has been at the center of some of the most intense political and ethical debates of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, from affirmative action and disability rights across police profiling and labor market inequality to multicultural accommodation and the limits of hate speech. The most paradigmatic and uncontroversial cases tend to be those of so-called direct discrimination. Few dispute that South Africa’s 1948 to 1994 Apartheid regime constituted discrimination against Black South Africans, or that the disenfranchisement of female Swiss citizens before 1971 constituted discrimination against women. But even for direct discrimination there are unclear and controversial cases aplenty. Does a religious organization discriminate if it insists that its ministers and clerics must publicly profess belief in its religious creed, for example? Or does an underfunded hospital that chooses to prioritize scarce resources by preserving its maternity ward rather than its Alzheimer’s clinic discriminate against the elderly, who are overwhelmingly more likely to require the second type of treatment than the first? What about a movie director who does not give consideration to a talented Black female actor when casting the lead role of a historical drama about Napoleon Bonaparte? Even though these examples are in many respects similar to paradigmatic cases of discrimination, most people will likely be unsure or skeptical that they themselves exemplify discrimination.

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