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Against Equality of Opportunity (Oxford Philosophical Monographs) [Hardcover]

Matt Cavanagh
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: £61.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

14 Feb 2002 0199243433 978-0199243433
Against Equality of Opportunity deals with the ways in which opportunities - education, jobs and other things which affect how people get on in life - are distributed. Take jobs: should the best person always get the job? Or should everyone be given an equal 'life chance'? Or can we somehow combine these two ideas, saying that the best person should always get the job, but that everyone should have an equal chance to become the best? These seem to be the standard views, but this book argues that they are all flawed. We need to understand meritocracy for what it is - a technical rather than a moral ideal; and we need to accept that equality just isn't something we should be striving for at all in this area. We also need to rethink our approach to the related issue of discrimination. We tend to assume discrimination is wrong because it violates either meritocracy or equality, when in fact it is wrong for quite different reasons. In all these areas, then, Cavanagh aims to loosen the grip of established ways of thinking, in order that other ideas might find room to breathe. This is particularly important in the case of meritocracy, which after the recent conversion of the centre-left now dominates the debate more than ever.
This book will be of interest to students and teachers of political philosophy, but ultimately it is aimed at anyone who cares about the fundamental values that lie behind the way society is organized. Though the argument is rigorous, it does not require a professional philosophical training to follow it.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (14 Feb 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199243433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199243433
  • Product Dimensions: 22.3 x 14.9 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,797,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Matt Cavanagh is an Associate Director at the Institute for Public Policy Research, a consultant and writer.

Before joining IPPR, Matt worked as a special adviser for the Labour government between 2003 and 2010, in the Home Office, the Treasury, the Ministry of Defence, and finally in Downing Street from 2007 to 2010.

Prior to that, Matt worked for the Boston Consulting Group, and before that as a lecturer in Philosophy at St Catherine's College, Oxford - where he wrote "Against Equality of Opportunity".

He has a BA in PPE, BPhil in Philosophy, and DPhil in Philosophy from the University of Oxford.

He writes for Prospect and Spectator magazines, and also blogs for both, as well as for the New Statesman, Leftfootforward, Labour Uncut, Commentisfree, and a range of other sites. He writes mainly about public policy and politics, from a centre-left perspective.

Product Description

Review

... a book that dares to argue against both meritocracy and equality, surely has to be welcome as a way out of the mess. (Philosophical Investigations)

Cavanagh does create space for new ideas and on more than one occasion offers some penetrating insights on both meritocracy and equality. (Philosophical Investigations)

This is a clearly written book that repays careful attention. (Political Studies Review)

Useful book ... Cavanagh does a tidy job of distinguishing a variety of ways of reading the meritocratic principle. (Contemporary Political Theory)

It is true that (John Gray, The Independent, Thursday Book,)

is a contrarian book - and all the better for that.

About the Author

... the book fully lives up to its provocative title. In the horse-trading of meritocracy versus equality, few have had the nerve and imagination to throw out both these ideals at once. (Nicholas Fearn, Spectator)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The aim of the next two parts of the book is to loosen the grip that the ideas of merit and equality have on our thinking in this area, in the hope that other ideas and approaches might then find room to breathe. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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4.0 out of 5 stars Against "Equality of Opportunity" 9 Nov 2011
Format:Paperback
Matt Cavanagh's book "Against Equality of Opportunity" is a very well written and thorough philosophical treatment of one of the key ideals of modern political discourse and is accessible to a general audience.

This book's primary aim is to tease apart a number of distinctive ideals that are typically described by the term "Equality of Opportunity". The book succeeds in identifying, clarifying and, where necessary, advancing considerations for rejecting a number of such ideals including equality and meritocracy. The book is a fine example of the importance of a philosophical analysis of everyday concepts and ideas. All too often our politicians appeal to woolly notions of fairness and equality (of opportunity) and do not specify what they mean by it. This should trouble us as academics or members of the general public for at least two reasons. First, without specifying the ideal more exactly we cannot have confidence that they are using the term in the same way that we do, thus we cannot be confident that they are on our side. Second, and more worryingly, without specifying the ideal more clearly, we cannot deliberate about their proposed values, we cannot attack the target because we do not know what it is. The term "Equality of Opportunity" is used no less frequently now than it was nearly 10 years ago, when the book was first published, and so the book retains great importance as a work on that topic.

It is now fairly common in contemporary political philosophy for egalitarians to reject the importance of securing equal shares of something as a moral ideal and, as someone working in the field, I believe that this book has made an important contribution to that process.
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10 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A muddled but nevertheless a rather nasty book 6 Aug 2002
By J. Mann VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
Cavanagh argues against giving everyone an equal chance and instead argues that "so long as people have enough control over their lives, that will encourage and enable them to live in the right way - to see their lives as stories they help construct, stories whose evolving shape reflects the good and bad choices they make along the way" (p. 133), the important thing is that "people are in a good enough position, never mind whether equal" (p.205). Cavanagh distinguishes between "top down" and "bottom up" approaches to discrimination, the former being objective discrimination that can be measured statistically and the latter being subjective discrimination that can be understood as deliberate, intentional bias. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 is a typical "top down" approach where it requires schools to monitor the race equality impact of a school policy through keeping statistics of ethnic groups. If for example it could be shown that a smaller proportion of ethnic minority pupils went on school trips than white pupils the school would be required to address this imbalance, regardless of the subjective reason it was occurring. Cavanagh does not believe "top down" discrimination to be real discrimination because no intolerance or favouritism has been established, "I happen to think that the bottom-up approach must be the right one" (p. 199).
So far this may sound as if in practise Cavanagh's differences are fairly mild. He does not object to providing special help to disadvantaged groups and he believes discrimination exists - provided we can identify someone doing the discriminating. However the key argument of the book concerns giving people the right to discriminate except in the very extreme circumstance of "unwarranted contempt" (p. 207).
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars equally relevant for left and right? 26 Dec 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I selected the middle section of this book (a critique of arguments for equality as a principle in deciding job allocation) for a reading group of left-leaning university lecturers - it certainly roused some tempers! It seems to me however, that Cavanagh's conclusion, such as it is, leaves equal room for thinking weighted toward employers' interests and for thinking weighted toward helping the disadvantaged. Perhaps Michael Howard should take a look...
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