The Vivès Seminar in Law, Economics and Political Philosophy is a reading seminar taking place every two weeks at the Hoover Chair. Phd students, Post-Docs and visitors at the Chair are invited to present their work-in-progress and to comment on the work of others. For any questions, please contact Manuel Valente
June 11: Diana-Elena Popescu (King’s College London)
Title: Discrimination without traits: a relational understanding of the grounds of discrimination
Abstract: Philosophical approaches to discrimination – and the legal practice the literature aims to theorise –list a set of protected grounds which are prohibited from serving as the basis of differential treatment. I argue for a relational understanding of the relevant grounds that differentiate genuine discrimination from merely differential treatment. Firstly, I argue against attempts to establish a list of protected grounds as a set of genuine traits as opposed to traits that are too ‘idiosyncratic’ to count as grounds of discrimination, such as earlobe size (Arneson 2006, Koppleman 2006) through analysing the historically discriminated against Cagot minority, whose defining feature was earlobe size. Secondly, I move from the seemingly isolated case of the Cagot to the paradigmatic cases of race, sex, disability and sexual orientation to show that on a constructivist reading, these protected grounds are not so in virtue of the traits of skin colour, sex and impairment, but due to how traits position individuals within social relations. Finally, I argue that contra discrimination theorists who claim that whether one has a naturalistic or a constructivist understanding of traits does not matter (e.g. Shin 2018: 199), a coherent constructivist readings leads to re-conceptualising the notion that individuals ‘have’ grounds of discriminations (contra Kaithan 2015), the notion of what it means to discriminate against someone because of a certain ground, as well as to uncover an additional source of wrongness for discrimination – i.e. that it contributes to establishing and maintaining unequal relations.