Social Class, Merit and Equality of Opportunity in Education

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



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Gideon Elford
University of Oxford

Citations of this work

Equality of opportunity.Richard Arneson - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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References found in this work

What is equality? Part 2: Equality of resources.Ronald Dworkin - 1981 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (4):283 - 345.
What is equality? Part 1: Equality of welfare.Ronald Dworkin - 1981 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (3):185-246.

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