Frej Klem Thomsen


The article explores one prominent account of what makes discrimination morally bad (when it is) – the disrespect-based account. The article first reviews and clarifies the account, arguing that it is most charitably understood as the claim that discrimination is morally bad when the discriminator gives lower weight to reasons grounded in the moral status of the discriminatee(s) in her decision-making. It then presents three challenges to the account, and reviews a recent argument in defense of it. The first challenge is the fact that intuitions that might support the disrespect-based account can also be explained by reference to the fact that disrespect reflects poorly on the moral character of the discriminator. The second challenge is that there are cases where disrespectful discrimination is not intuitively worse than non-disrespectful discrimination. The third challenge is that the disrespect-based account has difficulties explaining our intuitions about cases of “doing right for the wrong reasons”. Finally, pace a recent argument in its defense, cases of harmless and apparently morally bad discrimination are plausibly best explained by other factors than disrespect. In the light of this analysis, the article concludes that the disrespect-based account should be abandoned.