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Anger and Forgiveness"Are You There Alone?"10 Good Questions about Life and DeathA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Critique of the Moral Defense of VegetarianismA Delicate BalanceA Fragile LifeA Life for a LifeA Life-Centered Approach to BioethicsA Matter of SecurityA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Natural History of Human MoralityA Philosophical DiseaseA Practical Guide to Clinical Ethics ConsultingA Question of TrustA Sentimentalist Theory of the MindA Short Stay in SwitzerlandA Tapestry of ValuesA Very Bad WizardA World Without ValuesAction and ResponsibilityAction Theory, Rationality and CompulsionActs of ConscienceAddiction and ResponsibilityAddiction NeuroethicsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAfter HarmAftermathAgainst AutonomyAgainst BioethicsAgainst HealthAgainst MarriageAgainst Moral ResponsibilityAgency and AnswerabilityAgency and ResponsibilityAgency, Freedom, and Moral ResponsibilityAging, Biotechnology, and the FutureAlbert Schweitzer's Reverence for LifeAlphavilleAltruismAltruismAmerican EugenicsAmerican PsychosisAn American SicknessAn Anthology of Psychiatric EthicsAn Introduction to EthicsAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAn Introduction to Kant's Moral Philosophy Ancient Greek and Roman SlaveryAnd a Time to DieAnimal LessonsAnimal RightsAnimal Welfare in a Changing WorldAnimals Like UsApplied Ethics in Mental Health CareAre Women Human?Arguments about AbortionAristotle on Practical WisdomAristotle's Ethics and Moral ResponsibilityAssisted Suicide and the Right to DieAutonomyAutonomy and the Challenges to LiberalismAutonomy, Consent and the LawBabies by DesignBackslidingBad PharmaBad SoulsBarriers and BelongingBasic Desert, Reactive Attitudes and Free WillBeauty JunkiesBefore ForgivingBeing AmoralBeing YourselfBending Over BackwardsBending ScienceBernard WilliamsBetter Humans?Better Than WellBeyond BioethicsBeyond ChoiceBeyond GeneticsBeyond HatredBeyond Humanity?Beyond LossBeyond LossBeyond Moral JudgmentBeyond SpeechBeyond the DSM StoryBias in Psychiatric DiagnosisBioethicsBioethicsBioethics and the BrainBioethics at the MoviesBioethics Beyond the HeadlinesBioethics Critically ReconsideredBioethics in a Liberal SocietyBioethics in the ClinicBiomedical EthicsBiomedical EthicsBiomedical EthicsBiomedical EthicsBiomedical Research and BeyondBiosBioscience EthicsBipolar ChildrenBluebirdBodies out of BoundsBodies, Commodities, and BiotechnologiesBody BazaarBoundBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBraintrustBrandedBreaking the SilenceBuffy the Vampire Slayer and PhilosophyCapital PunishmentCase Studies in Biomedical Research EthicsChallenging the Stigma of Mental IllnessCharacter and Moral Psychology Character as Moral FictionChild Well-BeingChildrenChildren's RightsChoosing ChildrenChoosing Not to ChooseClinical Dilemmas in 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IdentitiesDeaf Identities in the MakingDeath Is That Man Taking NamesDebating ProcreationDebating Same-Sex MarriageDecision Making, Personhood and DementiaDecoding the Ethics CodeDefining DifferenceDefining Right and Wrong in Brain ScienceDefining the Beginning and End of LifeDelusions of GenderDementiaDemocracy in What State?Demons of the Modern WorldDescriptions and PrescriptionsDesert and VirtueDesire, Practical Reason, and the GoodDestructive Trends in Mental HealthDeveloping the VirtuesDid My Neurons Make Me Do It?Difference and IdentityDigital HemlockDigital SoulDignityDignityDisability BioethicsDisability, Difference, DiscriminationDiscrimination against the Mentally IllDisordered Personalities and CrimeDisorders of VolitionDisorientation and Moral LifeDivided Minds and Successive SelvesDoes Feminism Discriminate against Men?Does Torture Work?Double Standards in Medical Research in Developing CountriesDown GirlDrugs and JusticeDworkin and His CriticsDying in the Twenty-First 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the A PrioriEthics and the Discovery of the UnconsciousEthics and the Metaphysics of MedicineEthics at the CinemaEthics at the End of LifeEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationEthics Done RightEthics ExpertiseEthics for EveryoneEthics for PsychologistsEthics for the New MillenniumEthics in CyberspaceEthics in Everyday PlacesEthics in Health CareEthics In Health Services ManagementEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in PracticeEthics in PsychiatryEthics in PsychologyEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingEthics of PsychiatryEthics without OntologyEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEvaluating the Science and Ethics of Research on HumansEvilEvil GenesEvil in Modern ThoughtEvil in Modern ThoughtEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolved MoralityExperiments in EthicsExploding the Gene MythExploiting ChildhoodFacing Human SufferingFact and ValueFacts and ValuesFaking ItFalse-Memory Creation in Children and AdultsFat ShameFatal FreedomFellow-Feeling and the Moral LifeFeminism and Its DiscontentsFeminist Ethics and Social and Political PhilosophyFeminist TheoryFinal ExamFirst Do No HarmFirst, Do No HarmFlashpointFlesh WoundsForced to CareForgivenessForgivenessForgiveness and LoveForgiveness and ReconciliationForgiveness and RetributionForgiveness is Really StrangeFoucault and the Government of DisabilityFoundational Issues in Human Brain MappingFoundations of Forensic Mental Health AssessmentFree WillFree Will And Moral ResponsibilityFree Will and Reactive AttitudesFree Will, Agency, and Meaning in LifeFree?Freedom and ValueFreedom vs. InterventionFriendshipFrom Darwin to HitlerFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Enlightenment to ReceptivityFrom Morality to Mental HealthFrom Silence to VoiceFrom Valuing to ValueFrontiers of JusticeGender in the MirrorGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetics of Original 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Sick I Don't Need Help!I Was WrongIdentifying Hyperactive ChildrenIf That Ever Happens to MeImproving Nature?In Defense of FloggingIn Defense of SinIn Love With LifeIn Our Own ImageIn the FamilyIn the Land of the DeafIn the Name of IdentityIn the Wake of 9/11In Two MindsInclusive EthicsInformed Consent in Medical ResearchInnovation in Medical TechnologyInside Assisted LivingInside EthicsIntelligence, Race, and GeneticsIntensive CareInto the Gray ZoneIs Human Nature Obsolete?Is Long-Term Therapy Unethical?Is There a Duty to Die?Is There an Ethicist in the House?Issues in Philosophical CounselingJudging Children As ChildrenJust a DogJust BabiesJust CareJustice for ChildrenJustice for HedgehogsJustice in RobesJustice, Luck, and KnowledgeJustifiable ConductKant on Moral AutonomyKant's Theory of VirtueKids of CharacterKilling McVeighLack of CharacterLack of CharacterLaw and the BrainLearning About School ViolenceLearning from Baby PLeaving YouLectures on the History of Political 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Brain Made Me Do ItMy Sister's KeeperMy Sister's KeeperMy WayNano-Bio-EthicsNarrative MedicineNarrative ProsthesisNatural Ethical FactsNatural-Born CybogsNaturalized BioethicsNeither Bad nor MadNeoconservatismNeonatal BioethicsNeurobiology and the Development of Human MoralityNeuroethicsNeuroethicsNeuroethicsNew Takes in Film-PhilosophyNew Waves in EthicsNew Waves in MetaethicsNietzsche on Ethics and PoliticsNo Child Left DifferentNo Impact ManNormative EthicsNormativityNothing about us, without us!Oath BetrayedOf War and LawOn ApologyOn Being AuthenticOn EvilOn Human RightsOn The Stigma Of Mental IllnessOn the TakeOn Virtue EthicsOn What MattersOn What We Owe to Each OtherOne ChildOne Nation Under TherapyOne World NowOne World NowOur Bodies, Whose Property?Our Bodies, Whose Property?Our Daily MedsOur Faithfulness to the PastOur Posthuman FutureOut of EdenOut of Its MindOut of the ShadowsOverdosed AmericaOxford Handbook of Psychiatric EthicsOxford Studies in Normative EthicsOxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 7Oxford Textbook of Philosophy of PsychiatryPassionate DeliberationPatient Autonomy and the Ethics of ResponsibilityPC, M.D.Perfecting VirtuePersonal AutonomyPersonal Autonomy in SocietyPersonal Identity and EthicsPersonalities on the PlatePersonhood and Health CarePersons, Humanity, and the Definition of DeathPerspectives On Health And Human RightsPharmaceutical FreedomPharmacracyPharmageddonPhilosophy and This Actual WorldPhilosophy of BiologyPhilosophy of Technology: The Technological ConditionPhysician-Assisted DyingPicturing DisabilityPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying God?Playing God?Political EmotionsPornlandPowerful MedicinesPractical Autonomy and BioethicsPractical EthicsPractical Ethics for PsychologistsPractical RulesPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic NeuroethicsPraise and BlamePreferences and Well-BeingPrimates and PhilosophersPro-Life, Pro-ChoiceProcreation and ParenthoodProfits Before People?Progress in BioethicsProperty in the 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How Much?Why Some Things Should Not Be for SaleWisdom, Intuition and EthicsWithout ConscienceWomen and Borderline Personality DisorderWomen and MadnessWondergenesWould You Kill the Fat Man?Wrestling with Behavioral GeneticsWriting About PatientsYou Must Be DreamingYour Genetic DestinyYour Inner FishYouth Offending and Youth Justice Yuck!
Ask anyone whether she endorses the policy that everyone should be afforded an equal opportunity for advantaged social positions, such as jobs and educational slots, and she will respond with a resounding "Yes". But asked what, exactly, equal opportunity amounts to and which principles might best be employed to defend and express that ideal, our responder may have no immediate answer. To motivate just a few of the complexities involved in an adequate interpretation of equal opportunity, let alone its realization, imagine the following: You are a conductor of a regional orchestra who wishes to fill a vacancy in the first violin chair. This is a position which is rewarded in a number of ways including a modest salary, prestige, future opportunities opened by the position, not to mention the enjoyment and edification that comes with playing music. But how is the position to be filled such that everyone can be said to have an equal opportunity for it? As Mason argues, any answer we give to the question will inevitably be embedded within a wider theory of justice. So, if you simply decide to give this position to, say, your daughter--others will rightly feel a sense of moral outrage.
We might think that competition for the position is open if and only if no one is prevented from entering the competition for the chair, the job is widely advertised, and the selection criteria are designed to select only the best qualified candidate. This set of requirements Mason deems "the simple view", and the book proceeds to revise, elaborate, supplement, and defend this position. Indeed, the notions that the simple view comprises, including what counts as an "opportunity" and as a "qualification" are, well, far from simple. Does someone who comes from an economically depressed area, with no funding for music education, ever have the opportunity for such a position? Is a person qualified for our prestigious first chair if her religion demands that she wear a burka that might distract a typically parochial audience from a performance? These questions begin to reveal the thorny thicket of issues through which Mason attempts to cut a clear view.
One may object to giving the cherished position to your daughter because she does not deserve it, and Mason is quick to note that our intuitions about desert hover very close to our thinking about what it means to level the playing field. But, as we are sometimes all-too-aware, judgments about desert are sensitive to effort making, not just achievement. Imagine that one of the candidates spent several years in dedicated study, making familial and financial sacrifices in the process, to become a merely mediocre violinist. Now imagine another candidate who very easily mastered the instrument and can play the musical canon with brilliance--though the instrument takes little priority in her life's passions. Which candidate deserves the position? At the very least, appointment of people to positions on the basis of qualifications is not a good way of giving them what they deserve.
Mason argues that intuitions about desert and about hiring the best qualified candidate can be preserved best by an account which places not desert, but respect for persons, at its center. Mason expands this vision of equality of opportunity by arguing that instead of neutralizing the effects of differences in people's circumstances and endowments on their access to advantaged social positions, justice only demands that we mitigate such differences. The "mitigation approach" is itself articulated and defended in terms of further principles. These principles include a "basic skills principle", which is itself grounded in terms of a "sufficiency principle" and an "educational access principle", which is grounded in a "quasi-egalitarian principle", and yet others.
For Mason, a benefit of this approach is that it would allow tolerable (perhaps even desirable) differences to emerge from the different choices that people actually make. Mason calls this new position, derived from thinking seriously about the simple view, a "responsibility-sensitive egalitarianism". His account gives weight to the choices of individuals, but not complete weight when that weight is overly burdensome. In the end, Mason plausibly argues that it is by giving advantaged positions to those most qualified, and by selecting them based on relevant criteria, that we best respect the agency of both the person who earned the position and those who did not.
In reading the book, I often got the feeling of a beleaguered sub-prime mortgage borrower: I felt lost in principle. Indeed, the quick (too-quick) gloss I have given Mason's argument reveals that the position he is clearing in the thicket is a sophisticated one, one that asks the reader mentally to juggle many competing principles, views, and approaches. Sometimes I felt that my own juggling efforts would have been made a bit more bearable with more examples. Indeed, Mason is at his best when he discusses particular, concrete contexts. It is perhaps because of the multitude of principles and approaches that I sometimes got the feeling that Mason was trying to eat his cake and have it too--such that any of the threads of principles woven for the cloth of his position could independently unravel and not damage the sensibility of the overall position. Should there be a challenge, there always seems to be a principle waiting to meet it.
Of course it's not much of a criticism to say of a view that it's complicated. I suppose, given the crooked timber from which humanity is hewn, I shouldn't be surprised that a just structure will need to be fashioned by many tools. Mason, for his part, acknowledges the complexity of the position:
"It might be thought that the complexity of the mitigation approach--its reliance on a plurality of principles that work together but which may nevertheless come into conflict with one another--counts against that approach and provides at least one reason in favor of the neutralization approach, and indeed in favor of a version of it which holds that justice requires people to bear the full costs of their choices. But I do not think that considerations of complexity or simplicity have any bearing on the assessment of the mitigation approach, nor indeed the assessment of the neutralization approach, at the level of fundamental principle. At this level, simplicity is a virtue of a theory only if that theory is true ..." (220).
This is a book about egalitarianism, but it's not for everyone. Those readers wanting a general account of equal opportunity written for a broad audience best look elsewhere. Those deciding to tackle the text who already possess a familiarity with the theoretical issues and debates connected to the "equal opportunity" ideal, however, will find here a nuanced position that is defended and explored with real scholarly acumen. Indeed, those lucky enough to have access to the appropriate education will appreciate its careful, sustained argument, and they will be justly rewarded for their choice.
© 2008 R. D. Emerick
R. D. Emerick, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Palomar College.