A Philosopher's Blog

Michigan & Affirmative Action

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Race, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on April 28, 2014
Michigan State University wordmark

Michigan State University wordmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The matter of affirmative action once again hit the headlines in the United States with the Supreme Court upholding Michigan’s civil rights amendment, which had been overturned. The amendment specifies that:


(1) The University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, and any other public college or university, community college, or school district shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

(2) The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.


On the face of it, these two things seem to be exactly what civil rights laws should state, namely that discrimination and preferential treatment of the sorts specified is forbidden. As such, it might surprise some that the amendment has faced opposition from civil rights supporters and liberals. The main reason is that the amendment is aimed at ending affirmative action in public education and public sector jobs. Before the amendment, race could be used as a factor in college admissions and in hiring when doing so would address perceived racial disparities.

Despite being often cast as an academic liberal (with all attendant sins), I have long had a somewhat mixed view of affirmative action in education and employment. As an individualist who believes in the value of merit, I hold that college admission and hiring should be based entirely on the merit of the individual.  That is, the best qualified person should be admitted or hired, regardless of race, gender and so on. This is based on the principle that admission and hiring should be based on earning the admission or job and this is fairly and justly based on whether or not an individual merits the admission or job.

To use a sports analogy, the person who gets the first place award for a 5K race should be the person who runs the race the fastest. This person has merited the award by winning. To deny the best runner the award and give it to someone else in the name of diversity would be both absurd and unfair—even if there is a lack of diversity in regards to the winners. As such, the idea of engaging in social engineering at the expense of the individual tends to strike me as wrong.

However, I also am well aware of the institutionalized inequality in America and that dismantling such a system can, on utilitarian grounds, allow treating specific individuals unjustly in the name of the greater good. There is also the matter of the fairness of the competition.

In my 5K analogy, I am assuming that the competition is fair and victory is a matter of ability. That is, everyone one runs the same course and no one possesses an unfair advantage, such as having a head start or being able to use a bike. In such a fair competition, the winner fairly earns the victory. Unfortunately, the world outside of a fair 5K is rather different.

Discrimination, segregation and unjust inequality are still the order of the day in much of the United States. As such, when people are competing for admission to schools and for jobs, some people enjoy considerable unfair advantages while others face significant and unfair disadvantages. For example, African-Americans are more likely to attend underfunded and lower quality public schools and they face the specter of racism that still haunts America. As such, when people apply for college or for state jobs they are not meeting on the starting line of a fair race which will grant victory to the best person. Rather, people are scattered about (some far behind the starting line, some far ahead) and some enjoy unfair advantages while others unfair burdens.

Interestingly, many of these advantages and burdens involve employment and education. For example, a family that has a legacy at a school will have an advantage over a family whose members have never attended college. As such, affirmative action can shift things in the direction of fairness by, to use my racing analogy, pushing people backwards or forwards to bring everyone closer to the starting line to allow for a fairer competition.

To use a somewhat problematic analogy, 5K races divide the trophies up by age and gender (and some have wheelchair divisions as well). As such, an old runner like myself can stand a chance of winning an age group award, even though the young fellows enjoy that advantage of youth. The analogy works in that the 5K, like affirmative action done properly, recognizes factors that influence the competition that can be justly compensated for so that people can achieve success. The analogy, obviously enough, does start to break apart when pushed (as all analogies do). For example, affirmative action with trophies will never make me as fast as the youth, whereas affirmative action in college admission could allow a disadvantaged student match those who have enjoyed advantages.   It also faces the obvious risk of suggesting that the competitors are actually inferior and cannot compete in the open competition. However, it does show that affirmative action can be squared with fair competition.

In closing, I do believe that a person of good conscience can be concerned about the ethics of affirmative action. After all, it does seem to run contrary to the principles of fairness and equality by seeming to grant a special advantage to some people based on race, gender and such. I also hold that a person of good conscience can be for affirmative action—after all, it is supposed to aim at rectifying disadvantages and creating a society in which fair competition based on merit can properly take place.


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40 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on April 28, 2014 at 9:03 am

    “For example, a family that has a legacy at a school will have an advantage over a family whose members have never attended college.”

    Is this really true for state schools?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 28, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      All state schools? Perhaps not. Some? Certainly.

      • T. J. Babson said, on April 28, 2014 at 3:56 pm

        I am opposed to legacy admissions, but for truly private schools it has to be allowed. However, in this case they should not be allowed to receive any federal money.

        For public universities legacy admissions are outrageous.

        • apollonian said, on April 28, 2014 at 4:15 pm

          Why shouldn’t private institutions be entitled to public money, regardless? I’d say if private isn’t entitled to that tax-payers’ money, public shouldn’t either. Fed tax-money to any education is obviously un-constitutional; it destroys education, corrupting it w. political agendas–as is plain fm history.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 28, 2014 at 6:40 pm

          Interesting things go on behind the walls in academia. Just like everywhere else. Sadly. Fortunately, there are people of good conscience who do their best to keep things going.

  2. apollonian said, on April 28, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Simplest, Best Ethics Is Remove “Affirmative Action” Balderdash

    Mike, here’s another of ur otherwise interesting essays, which however, as so often, is filled w. question-begging and pre-conceptions. And one of ur BIG problems is u’re always looking to CONTRIVE some “ethical” issue as u imagine ethics is some sort of a God which must be worshipped as “end in itself”–which end-in-itself u grossly and falsely attribute to Aristotle, for another item. Ethics is mere logic btwn means and ends, period.

    So to start with, note there’s no “ethics of affirmative action”–this is just a lie–prop., at best. “Affirmative action” is and was PURE politics, always–sure there were always excuses offered by professional propagandists like urself, founded in contrivance, mysticism, and subjectivism–it never ends w. u, Mike.

    And “racism”–what’s that?–it’s virtue of LOYALTY (ck any dictionary) to people, ancestors, and culture–it’s virtue, again, and EVERYONE is necessarily racist (loyal to their people).

    And all the rest of ur balderdash and prop. about prior “discrimination” is just more babble–it’s not a proper reason for discrimination for nowadays–it just never ends. But u’re a sad and pathetic slave to the premise, pretending to “ethics,” which makes u sucker for this “affirmative action” controversy, that’s all.

    Of course, obvious fact is state can and should run its policies any way it sees fit, in accord w. Constitution and republican-democratic process, racist or not–“ethics” is just balderdash and moronic subjectivist pretense. “Ethics” was mere premise at the adoption of original Constitutional and political premises; present considerations are well past that pt. of “ethics.”

    And note, above all, ZOG wants to use any pretext to keeping the citizens at one another’s throats–race is and has long been most excellent pretext–and that’s what they’re doing now, u Mike, helping along w. ur usual prop. and hand-wringing.

    So in conclusion, we must reject ur “ethics” and pretenses thereto–it’s all subjectivist babble and blather–let the state work as it finds expedient in accord w. the usual politics. Simplest “ethics” and fairness would surely seem to removing all this idiot “affirmative action” nonsense.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 28, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      Ethics gets into everything, much like beach sand.

      • apollonian said, on April 28, 2014 at 4:11 pm

        Mike: this gets simply to def. & nature of ethics–u’re making it into mystery. Ethics is logic btwn means and ends. If means are consistent w. ends, then those means are properly “ethical,” pure and simple.

        And regarding Aristotle, do u still say he considered ethics an end in itself?–if so, pls give citation.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 28, 2014 at 6:43 pm

          Some ethical theories are about means and ends of the sort you mention, but not all.

          For Aristotle, the end is happiness. For him, happiness for humans is the state of excellence (virtue). Thus,virtue is an end in itself. Check out the Nicomachean Ethics.

          Now, if you are asking if the study of ethics is an end for Aristotle, the answer is no: it is means to the end. To paraphrase him, the goal is to be good people.

          • apollonian said, on April 29, 2014 at 11:05 am

            Aristotle: Eminently Practical

            Mike: I guess I need to go and get a specific citation for u, but as I understand, the end for Aristotle is “eudemonia” (happiness), living well among others who are living well, within the political environment, ethics serving politics, rather the reverse as we understand it today.

            And yes, I think Aristotle does understand “virtue,” in its most exalted form, as a kind of wisdom which achieves happiness, this “virtue”/wisdom then understood as an end, co-equal w. end of happiness, somewhat like the Christian TRUTH (Christ) the only way to God (happiness), according to Gosp. JOHN 14:6.

            Regardless, I think it’s easily understood the end of self-interest, “happiness”/eudemonia, for Aristotle, virtue the means, though in its most exalted state an end too, but this virtue as end-in-itself is mere Platonic-style ideal for Aristotle who is characteristically PRACTICAL in regard to ethics, ethics understood explicitly as something practical.

            For Aristotle there’s no such thing as the Platonic “good.” And Aristotle can well be understood as consistent then w. Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, and Adam Smith who understand humans seek their interest, everything else being means towards that end.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 29, 2014 at 12:54 pm

              For Aristotle, virtue is not a coequal end with happiness, virtue is happiness: “The answer to the question we are asking is plain also from the definition of happiness; for it has been said to be a virtuous activity of soul, of a certain kind.”

            • apollonian said, on April 29, 2014 at 1:41 pm

              Perhaps, but this is just an instance of lack of clarity for Aristotle, as virtue by definition is means, distinct and not end. For the obvious question is begged, how/why is any action “virtuous,” conducive to happiness. Happiness must be the product, end, of the means, the virtue, the activity. Activity is means, not ends. Aristotle struggles to get away fm the abstractness of Plato, I suspect, conflating an activity w. end of happiness.

              Simplified solution is means and ends, ultimate end being self-interest, the will of the actor.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 30, 2014 at 1:22 pm

              An activity can be an end, that is it is done for its own sake (and perhaps also as a means as well). Running, for example, can be a means and an end for runners. See Running with the Pack (a book I reviewed).

            • apollonian said, on April 30, 2014 at 5:18 pm

              Mike: why should I read a gosh-darned book if u can’t even explain sufficiently in ur own words in brief, reasonable way?–if it takes a whole book, u KNOW u’ve failed.

              All activity must be for some end, necessarily and by def., in accord w. one’s interest and good old Aristotelian logic.

              Running is an activity, giving pleasure, hence the end is pleasure, running the means. Running is also means of exercise and health, these being ends, also means to ultimate happiness, well-being, etc.

              But virtue, by def., is means, not end. We gotta keep our terminology clear and defined in order to understand things properly. Note Aristotel wasn’t perfect; he struggled to understand things, including ethics, in most rational, logical manner, and apart fm the abstractionism of Plato.

              Locke and Hobbes are irrefutable, however, we’re ultimately self-interested as humans–selfish, egoistic, thus “sinful” (though not “evil”), according to Christianity, but in accord w. God’s intention as he created us.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 1, 2014 at 10:28 am

              Just read my review.

            • apollonian said, on May 1, 2014 at 10:51 am

              Well, if u have a review somewhere, then u need to give a citation, eh? But otherwise running couldn’t be an end–for if it were an end there’d be no place for the question, “WHY” (run)?–running could only be means. Even if running were pleasurable, that would need to be spoken–“because I LIKE to run,” running for pleasure, running AS pleasure–still, it does require that note. We do things for our interest, whatever that might be.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 2, 2014 at 8:50 am

              A copy is on this site-just type “Running with the Pack” into the search function.

  3. WTP said, on April 29, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    TJ, Magus, curious your thoughts on tying virtue to happiness. Never considered the concepts as being related. For a person to be happy, this is an internal feeling. Granted, influenced greatly in many cases by external factors but only a person them self can know that they are happy. Virtue, OTOH seems to be rather questionable when recognized by the self. I suppose one can be virtuous and know it, but such seems highly suspect. Seems it would require a considerable amount of self satisfaction which would interfere with one’s aspiration for virtue. Though perhaps I’m presuming that total virtue is not for mere mortals to achieve. Reach, grasp, heaven’s purpose and all that.

    • T. J. Babson said, on April 30, 2014 at 9:14 am

      Happiness is an elusive goal, and usually arises when is focused on something else, like raising a family, or getting involved in a satisfying project. I don’t see any direct link between happiness and virtue.

      I have no trouble believing that supremely evil people like Stalin or Mao were nevertheless happy.

      I also have no trouble believing that countless virtuous people are unhappy.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 30, 2014 at 1:24 pm

        Aristotle would argue that the wicked only think they are happy, but they are wrong. So Stalin and Mao might have felt pleasure, but their evil denied them happiness.

        • apollonian said, on April 30, 2014 at 1:40 pm

          Yes, Stalin and Mao failed for most exalted “eudemonia”–for one thing, they had no friends, as we understand fm accounts, they not able to trust anyone–esp. uncle Joe.

          George Washington was able to retire securely to his estate at Mt. Vernon feeling secure among his peers and equals, immediately after the revolutionary victory and successful treaty w. G. Britain, and again after he’d served two terms of office as Pres.–this secure retirement was not affordable to Mao or Stalin who found it necessary to ride the fearsome tiger they’d created.

        • WTP said, on April 30, 2014 at 2:08 pm

          Yes, the false consciousness…which Stalin and Mao (and Kims) apologists tell us is why the masses in the free world seem happier than those under the benevolent care of their philosopher king societies. One wonders how Ari would have gotten along with the above. He was the tutor of Alex The Great. Might be interesting if one could ask the societies subjugated by ATG their feelings on the matter.

          Big red flag when the level of happiness of a person is defined by anyone except the subject themselves. Cults and such thrive on this sort of manipulation. Which brings me back to the other half of my original question, shouldn’t virtue be defined by those observing the subject? What kind of person believes that their own happiness is a result of their own virtue? What kind of person just knows that they themselves are virtuous and thus this makes them happy? A narcissist perhaps?

          • apollonian said, on April 30, 2014 at 2:37 pm

            Affirmative Action: Jews Love It When Gentiles Are In-Fighting

            WTP: seems u’re all caught-up in some quandary of ur own, ho ho ho. Ethics is science or logic btwn means and ends, ends being anything, one’s self-interest. So ethics would have to doing w. defining one’s interest and how to achieve them.

            Thus ethics answers question, “what should I do?”–which pre-supposes the nature of reality, which has to be figured-out as part of the ethical project–to see, for example, what happiness/interest might be and how then to be achieved.

            U Jews want to insist u’re God, collectively, and that u must exterminate gentiles for ur security–except for fact u need gentiles as ur slaves, “Shabbat-goys.” Thus u Jews are conflicted at least 2 or 3 ways, the leftists pushing AGENDA-21 genocide, the rightists pushing Israel and genocide of Arabs, Mooooooooooslims, Palestinians, and lately Iranians, this after u’ve murdered over a million Iraqis.

            There’s yet another faction pushing such as Rand Paul who lately has insisted USA “stand w. Israel,” ho ho ho, proving Jews rule, eh?

            In short, u Jews thrive most and best, and love it when gentiles are fighting one another–u LOVE affirmative action, which is what this particular blog was all about in first place, eh?

          • magus71 said, on April 30, 2014 at 3:18 pm

            The core of my Christianity is that none of us are really virtuous. It’s the reason for Christ. But I still do not fall into relativism; there is bad, good, best and worst. Jesus castigated some for certain actions and praised others for different actions. In any case, most thinking Christians believe they should be examples to others. Paul talks about all the ancient Greek virtues in one form or another, self-control, courage etc. It’s a constant struggle. You don’t wake up one day and find that you’ve won the game.

            • apollonian said, on April 30, 2014 at 3:22 pm

              U’re un-questionably NOT NOT NOT Christian–u’re a gross, pathetic worshipper of lies, esp. in form of “good” Pharisaism, known as heresy of Pelagianism–u’re as self-righteously anti-Christ as it’s possible to be. If u believe in “good,” u’re subjectivist, hence relativist, PERIOD–get it straight.

              What do u know about “most thinking Christians”?

            • apollonian said, on April 30, 2014 at 3:27 pm

              [Previous post, above, all of a sudden disappeared and published before I was finished typing–so, I’ll just continue….]

              * * * * * * * * * * * * *

              U’re un-questionably NOT NOT NOT Christian–u’re a gross, pathetic worshipper of lies, esp. in form of “good” Pharisaism, known as heresy of Pelagianism–u’re as self-righteously anti-Christ as it’s possible to be. If u believe in “good,” u’re subjectivist, hence relativist, PERIOD–get it straight.

              What do u know about “most thinking Christians”?–did satan all of a sudden give u power of ESP?–ho ho ho.

              No excrement, Sherlock: Christians are sinners, doomed to fiery flames of heck, indeed. I suggest if u want to be Christian u start heeding to TRUTH TRUTH TRUTH as only way to God, in accord w. Gosp. JOHN–and reject lies of satan and ZOG which is what u currently worship, comrade.

            • WTP said, on April 30, 2014 at 4:19 pm

              I agree. It’s a journey not a destination. Though I suppose Buddhism might argue it is attainable, though not qualified to speak for Buddahists.

              Re below, virtue can being tied to happiness…I understand your point and agree to some extent, but on some level it’s a chicken/egg thing and another as I describe above, out of man’s reach. I would say that living in harmony with the nature of…well, nature is likely to lead to some significant degree of happiness. By nature I do not solely mean the greeny, tree-hugging kind but also the understanding of human nature, aspirations, and such so as to maximize happiness of not only one’s self but those around you. This, I believe, is the nugget of Christianity that has enabled and encouraged its proliferation over the last 2K years. This combined with the rationalization of its ancestor/sibling of Judaism. Not precluding the positive aspects of other religions, as far as they go. But as TJ pointed out many, many have suffered who lived virtuous lives but one would be hard pressed to say that their virtuous suffering was a source of happiness. I don’t see Jeremiah, or many other of the prophets both biblical and historic, as having been “happy”.

            • apollonian said, on April 30, 2014 at 4:33 pm

              Christ is truth (Gosp. JOHN 14:6), and only way to happiness (God) is TRUTH TRUTH TRUTH above all/any.

              Sorry to break it to u, WTP, but Christianity, worship of TRUTH, is absolutely opposed to Judaism/Talmudism, w. no qualifications. Christ preached law, properly understood, and clarified by Christ, of Moses AGAINST the lies of the Pharisees, founders of Talmudism/Judaism (Gosp. JOHN 8:44). Jews are defined as followers of Pharisees and Talmud–ask ur rabbi. Jews worship lies and satan, which Christ and Christianity oppose un-reservedly.

              And of course, we don’t say Jews are “evil”–they’re just anti-Christ, anti-human disease, like psychopathology, Typhus, leprosy, and plague, and must be eradicated–in Christian way, of course. “Think not I came to bring peace; rather, I come to bring a sword (Gosp. MATT 10:34).

              Jews, the honest and realistic ones, KNOW Christianity is anti-semitic–which most of the moronic scum and half-baked puke, who call themselves “Christian,” don’t want to face-up to.

    • magus71 said, on April 30, 2014 at 12:36 pm

      I just gone done reading Charles Murray’s new book, “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead. It’s a short and excellent read, intended to give young aspiring college students some guidelines they should be getting from parents and from their universities but are not. He speaks in the end about ancient Greek virtues, which were not fuzzy and emotion-based, though of course open to some interpretation. They are courage, justice, temperance, and prudence. Think about how rare those things are in this world. Those characteristics are even mocked.

      I understand what you are saying about virtue becoming suspect if we call ourselves virtuous. It’s the same thing if we call ourselves wise. But Murray has a part of his book entitled: Don’t ruin your love affair with yourself. He asserts that we all think we’re pretty awesome, so we should live up to our own vision of ourselves by doing what we know is good. He talks about the simple act of tipping waiters as an example.

      My honest opinion is that virtue can be tied to happiness. We can never achieve perfect virtue nor perfect happiness. But I do think that contentment can be had, and that only comes when at some point in our lives we realize our own weakness and examine ourselves honestly. For me, when I reached that point, a lot of things fell in to place. It’s the self-awareness you always talk about. I also started to see how virtue can really get you ahead because it builds the trust of others, which may be the core of our success. I’ve seen in the Army competent people lose all trust from others by being bad people, even though they were very technically capable.

      • apollonian said, on April 30, 2014 at 1:31 pm

        “I also started to see how virtue can really get you ahead because it builds the trust of others, which may be the core of our success.” -Magus

        * * * * * * * * * * *

        Magus, unfortunately for u, u’re sad and pathetic slave of inferiority-complex and ZOG, swallowing and retailing all ZOG’s lies, like about al Qaeda, “terrorism,” Weapons of mass-destruction, etc. U reject TRUTH (Christ) for non-existent “good.” HOW could u possibly be properly “self-aware” unless first u’re HONEST, hence truthful–which truth u couldn’t care less about, obviously, slave of ZOG as u are, pushing their lies. U suck, sucker.

  4. magus71 said, on May 1, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Mike, when are you gonna do us all a favor and ban apollonian? If you don’t I’m going to pay someone for a cyber attack on his IP. He’s already banned on my site and no one disagreed it was the right thing to do. He’s extra chirpy here now because he got the boot on my blog

    Do it for ZOG Mike.

    • WTP said, on May 1, 2014 at 8:40 am

      He can’t do that. With whom would he discuss virtue?

    • apollonian said, on May 1, 2014 at 10:25 am

      Ho ho ho ho ho

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 1, 2014 at 10:30 am

      I have a general no-ban policy. But, if you want to go all Hydra on him… 🙂

      • magus71 said, on May 1, 2014 at 12:10 pm

        Well he’s the only person I’ve ever banned. He’s now a mere troll.

        • apollonian said, on May 1, 2014 at 12:43 pm

          “If you don’t I’m going to pay someone for a cyber attack on his IP.” -the neo-con traitor to USA

          * * * * * * * * * * * * *

          Pretty desperate measures, I’d say, for a thug-w.-a-badge -type, filled w. sanctimony to cover his inferiority-complex, ho ho ho ho

    • apollonian said, on May 1, 2014 at 11:11 am

      “Do it for ZOG Mike.” -the traitor to USA and Constitution

      * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

      Ho ho ho–at least he’s honest, eh? Now we see the opposing sides & “ideals” laid-out. And observe the neo-con is flying-high at the moment. The fool doesn’t realize his whole world is about to come crashing-down, soon, soon, when US Dollar collapses (already in early stages). Interesting also, the traitor can’t figure out the irony as he himself invokes “patriotism”–to Israel-first, but this cloaked in moralism/Pharisaism, w. the under-lying inferiority-complex as ultimate motivation, hidden even fm himself, which he doesn’t admit.

  5. Alysia Gersbach said, on December 18, 2016 at 5:08 am

    pebble tile

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