Res Publica 22 (3):267-284 (2016)

Gideon Elford
Oxford University
The paper offers to substantiate a claim about the so-called Meritocratic Conception of how educational opportunities ought to be distributed. Such a conception holds an individual’s prospects for educational achievement may be a function of that individual’s talent or effort levels but should not be influenced by their social class background. The paper highlights the internal tension in the Meritocratic Conception between on the one hand a prohibition on the influence of social class on educational opportunities and on the other a permission to allow unequal educational opportunities on the basis of talent and effort. This tension obtains because individuals’ talent and effort are themselves subject to influence by social class. The paper makes a positive case for an interpretation of the Meritocratic Conception that resolves this tension in favour of an egalitarian version, such that social class represents an objectionable determinant of unequal educational prospects even when its influence is mediated through the cultivation of talent and effort. This argument is further supported through an explanation that the character of social class as a systemic social source of the structure of individuals’ opportunities makes it an objectionable influence on educational opportunities.
Keywords Equality  Merit  Education  Social class
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11158-015-9280-3
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 62,577
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

What is Equality? Part 1: Equality of Welfare.Ronald Dworkin - 1981 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (3):185-246.
What is Egalitarianism?Samuel Scheffler - 2003 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 31 (1):5-39.
Legitimate Parental Partiality.Harry Brighouse - 2009 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 37 (1):43-80.

View all 19 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Educational Equality: Luck Egalitarian, Pluralist and Complex.John Calvert - 2014 - Journal of Philosophy of Education 48 (1):69-85.
Shifting Frames: From Divided to Distributed Psychologies of Scientific Agents.Peter J. Taylor - 1994 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1994:304-310.
How Bad Is Rape?H. E. Baber - 1987 - Hypatia 2 (2):125-138.
The Contemporary Significance of Confucianism.Tang Yijie & Yan Xin - 2008 - Frontiers of Philosophy in China 3 (4):477-501.
The Hiddenness Argument Revisited.J. L. Schellenberg - 2005 - Religious Studies 41 (3):287-303.
A Macro Sociology of Emotion: Class Resentment.J. M. Barbalet - 1992 - Sociological Theory 10 (2):150-163.
The 'Second Chance' Myth: Equality of Opportunity in Irish Adult Education Policies.Bernie Grummell - 2007 - British Journal of Educational Studies 55 (2):182 - 201.


Added to PP index

Total views
88 ( #121,260 of 2,446,650 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #456,908 of 2,446,650 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes