Uncertainty in Hiring Does Not Justify Affirmative Action

Philosophia 45 (3):1299-1311 (2017)
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Luc Bovens has recently advanced a novel argument for affirmative action, grounded in the plausible idea that it is hard for an employer to evaluate the qualifications of candidates from underrepresented groups. Bovens claims that this provides a profit-maximizing employer with reason to shortlist prima facie less-qualified candidates from underrepresented groups. In this paper, I illuminate three flaws in Bovens’s argument. First, it suffers from model error: A rational employer does not incur costs to scrutinize candidates when it knows their qualifications with perfect certainty, nor does it refuse to hire better-qualified candidates just because they did not require extra scrutiny. Second, Bovens’s core premise--that there is greater variance in the evaluation of underrepresented candidates than there is the evaluation of other candidates--hurts underrepresented candidates rather than helps them. Third, candidates who are not shortlisted for the reasons Bovens gives have a plausible complaint about unfairness in the hiring process.

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Thomas Mulligan
Georgetown University


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