Bernard Boxill

Bernard Boxill, “The Color-Blind Principle,” in Larry May and others, Applied Ethics: A Multicultural Approach, Prentice Hall, 2011, 5th ed., pp. 418-425.


Bernard Boxill contends that selection for positions based on personal qualities is justifiable. It is not regarded as discrimination to select people for certain positions when their talents are suited to the position.

Boxill considers two liberal principles, an egalitarian principle and a principle of responsibility, as a possible basis for avoiding discrimination. He rejects both, but he puts in their place a standard of community need and defends a color-conscious policy.

According to the egalitarian principle, people should be treated equally regardless of the color of their skin. Policies should be color-blind.

The principle of responsibility holds that people should not be discriminated against for conditions they did not choose—that is, for which they are not responsible. Black persons did not choose the color of their skin, for example, so they should not be discriminated against on the basis of skin color.

Boxill maintains that intent counts in moral evaluation. He finds neither the egalitarian principle nor the principle of responsibility relevant for questions of justice.

In support of his claims, Boxill argues that surgeons are chosen on the basis of conditions they did not choose. A person with quick fingers would make a better surgeon than a person who lacks quick fingers or a person with no fingers at all. Discrimination cannot plausibly be charged against those who favor those with quick fingers but refuse to admit into medical school a person with no fingers.

The measure of what is just, Boxill contends, must take into account service to the community. Persons whose conditions make them better surgeons are justifiably chosen for the position of surgeon. Whether a person chose to have quick fingers or no fingers is not relevant to the question of justice in the selection of medical school candidates.

If the color of the doctors’ or lawyers skin means that the black community will more fully utilize their medical or legal services, blacks should be given preference for medical and law schools. In this instance, a color-conscious policy can be justified.

Boxill’s argument may be regarded as an example of strict communitarianism.


2 thoughts on “Bernard Boxill

    • Michael,

      The source I used for the Bernard Boxill article is Larry May and others, editors, Applied Ethics: A Multicultural Approach, Fifth edition, Prentice Hall, 2011, pages 418-425. The original appeared in Bernard Boxill, Blacks and Social Justice, Boston: Rowman and Littlefield, 1992.

      Best regards,
      Bill Soderberg


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