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The development, defense, and contestation of preferential affirmative action has proceeded along two paths.One has been legal and administrative as courts, legislatures, and executive departments of government have made and applied rules requiring affirmative action.4, fully implementing the Executive Order, landed on campus by way of directives from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. 4, first promulgated in 1970, cast a wide net over American institutions, both public and private.
The other has been the path of public debate, where the practice of preferential treatment has spawned a vast literature, pro and con.
Often enough, the two paths have failed to make adequate contact, with the public quarrels not always very securely anchored in any existing legal basis or practice.
Philosophers might do “meta-ethics” but not “normative ethics.” This viewed collapsed in the 1970s under the weight of two counter-blows.
First, John Rawls published in 1971 , became self-conscious platforms for socially and politically engaged philosophical writing, born out of the feeling that in time of war (the Vietnam War) and social tumult (the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation), philosophers ought to do, not simply talk about, ethics.
Likewise, after 1965 federal contractors had been subject to President Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Order 11246, requiring them to take “affirmative action” to make sure they were not discriminating. The Executive Order assigned to the Secretary of Labor the job of specifying rules of implementation.
In the meantime, as the federal courts were enforcing the Civil Rights Act against discriminating companies, unions, and other institutions, the Department of Labor mounted an ad hoc attack on the construction industry by cajoling, threatening, negotiating, and generally strong-arming reluctant construction firms into a series of region-wide “plans” in which they committed themselves to numerical hiring goals.
The 1972 Revised Order, on the other hand, effected a change that punctured any campus complacency: it included women among the “protected classes” whose “underutilization” demanded the setting of “goals” and “timetables” for “full utilization” (Graham 1990, 413).
Unlike African-Americans and Hispanics, women were getting Ph Ds in substantial and growing numbers.
For several decades Anglo-American philosophy had treated moral and political questions obliquely.
On the prevailing view, philosophers were suited only to do “conceptual analysis”—they could lay bare, for example, the conceptual architecture of the idea of justice, but they were not competent to suggest political principles, constitutional arrangements, or social policies that actually did justice.