Pre-read, virtual seminar with Diana Popescu (Edinburgh University). To receive the paper and link to the event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Event co-sponsored with the Political Theory Research Group at the University of Edinburgh.
In this paper I propose a dispositional theory of discrimination, which interprets the properties on the basis of which people discriminate (such as race, gender, ethnicity or disability) as dispositional properties. I build on the notion of dispositional properties from the philosophy of science, where properties such as being fragile or soluble are said to depend for their manifestation on certain configurations of the environment in which the object carrying the property is placed. Just like being soluble means ‘when placed in water, the substance dissolves’, so properties like race, gender, or ethnicity as grounds of discrimination refer primarily not to intrinsic traits of discriminatees, but to the way others in society behave when a person is perceived to be a member of a certain minoritised group. This interpretation moves the focus of what is defining for discrimination from the properties involved to the social structures, institutions, practices and attitudes typically manifested when properties such as race or gender are (socially) perceived. This proposal goes against the influential understanding of the grounds of discrimination as immutable properties that discriminatees possess when defining what discrimination is. It also, as I show in the final section, points towards a new understanding of what makes discrimination morally wrong – namely, that it violates relational equality.