Chapter 5 addresses accounts that locate the wrongness of discriminatory acts in the objective meaning of acts of discrimination. In particular, it focuses on a recent account by Deborah Hellman, according to which the distinctive wrongness of discriminatory acts lies in their being objectively demeaning whereby they violate a bedrock principle of equal human worth, and one by Thomas Scanlon, according to which acts of racial discrimination are wrong in part because of the offensive meaning discriminatees can reasonably ascribe to them. The chapter first presents a number of challenges to Hellman’s account and then takes a critical look at Scanlon’s account, arguing that it is ambiguous about whether the offensive meaning of acts of racial discrimination in itself renders them wrong. Once this ambiguity is uncovered, Scanlon’s account appears quite problematic.
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