Sunday, July 11, 2010

Privilege, Discrimination, Action, Being, and Moral Value

FLG mentioned something in the comments over at Dance's place. He's mentioned it before, but people are so often unaware or gloss over it that he wants to mention it again.

There are two types of discrimination. First, there is discriminating against a person based upon some state of their being -- race, sex, etc. This is unequivocally wrong. Second, there is discrimination against people who take or took certain actions. This, unlike the first, isn't necessarily wrong and in fact is pretty much what public policy is based upon.

One of the most interesting cases, at least to FLG, where this applies is with homosexuality. Many people argue that if people are born gay, then homosexuality is okay. FLG agrees that people are probably born gay. However, it doesn't follow that homosexual sex or gay marriage is therefore justified. Those are actions separate from the person's state of being.

To offer a reductio ad absurdum-esque explanation:
If somebody was born a pedophile, then it doesn't mean it's fine if they touch kids. (Please note: I'm not arguing a moral equivalence homosexuality to pedophilia or that one leads to the other.)

And just to mention it, FLG is pro-gay marriage and has no problem with homosexuality, but the idea that somebody is born that way has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Getting back to the point, FLG just brings this all up because Dance was discussing the merits of universities extending offers to prospective hires' significant others and discrimination against singles. Since getting married is an action, it's not necessarily wrong to privilege those who take that action.

FLG doesn't really know whether hiring partners is the right thing to do, but it seems like something that would vary from institution to institution. If the university is in a location with few jobs, say someplace rural, then maybe it makes sense. Some place in a big city? Perhaps not so much. But the point is that discriminating against somebody who is single isn't unequivocally wrong in the way discriminating against race or sex. There is moral value in an action. There isn't in a state of being.

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