Age, equality, and cultural oppression : an argument against ageism
The concept of 'ageism' has often been thought to be of limited moral concern, especially in comparison to other forms of discrimination such as racism and sexism. Nevertheless, there are also those who believe that ageism is morally significant, and there are diametrically opposed views within liberal and egalitarian theory as to whether age discrimination is or is not just. This thesis has two objectives. Firstly, it seeks to overcome the apparent vagueness of the concept that has given rise to such diametrically opposed views concerning ageism by examining exactly what the phenomenon involves. It defines the wrongfulness of much age discrimination as originating in either the nature of the reasons for which people discriminate against the old or the nature of the consequences for the individuals affected. In the course of the thesis I make several important distinctions, the most important of which are between the social and moral worth of a person, and between the synchronic and diachronic interests of a person. These distinctions allow us to distinguish between a culturally oppressive ageism and ageism that is justified by reasons of equality and efficiency. The former is intrinsically morally wrong, the latter extrinsically wrong. The second aim of the thesis is to develop an anti-ageist ethical principle capable of challenging both forms of ageism in a comprehensive way, and which is consistent with a broader liberal egalitarian political theory. This is achieved by drawing on the distinction between the irreducible nature of each person's synchronic and diachronic interests. I have identified the principle that we should protect the synchronic interests of older persons with a democratic social egalitarianism that seeks to equalise the social relations between citizens rather than concentrating upon an equality of distribution. It is in this way that I also connect the debate about the morality (or otherwise) of age discrimination with debates within contemporary liberal egalitarian philosophy.