A distinction is only relevant if the focus to which it is thought to be relevant is a genuine determinant, that is, a determinant which does not itself depend on one or more nonrelevant differences made. If we allowed for fake focuses every distinction would be 'relevant', because people could choose a discriminatory attitude or practise itself as a focus then. Thus every distinction of ethnicity would be 'relevant' if the promotion of ethnocentrism itself could be chosen, and were accepted, as the focal determinant to establish the 'relevance' of the distinction. If ethnocentrism is defined as the attitude or practise of making irrelevant distinctions on the basis of the ethnic group to which somebody belongs, the underlying 'reasoning' could even logically be rejected as circular.

But assume, someone gives another definition of ethnocentrism or formulates 'er goal without making use of the notion of relevancy or a term synonymous to (ir)relevant. For example, 'e says "my goal is promoting the happiness or well-being of ethnic group A and/or the suffering of all other ethnic groups". In a purely truth-conditional sense such 'reasoning' is not circular now. In order to achieve 'er aim, the distinction to be made between ethnic group A and all other ethnic groups in the specific situation concerned is 'relevant'. Tho not so obvious as before, the 'reasoning' behind this attitude is still unfounded, because the distinction made under the specific circumstances is the same as the one made in the formulation of the goal itself, and therefore stands or falls with the relevancy of the distinction made within the goal. (Note that this conclusion cannot be drawn if the person's goal had been everybody ought to promote the happiness of 'er own group.) An ethnic group in itself is not a goal, and must be distinguished on the basis of some factor, but if that factor is happiness, or suffering for that matter, as mentioned in the formulation of the goal, it is not relevant to distinguish on the basis of ethnicity (or race or species) between sentient beings in that the happiness (or suffering) of the one should be promoted and not that of the other. (However, questions of intensity, amplitude and life plans may play a role in assessing the implications of this standpoint, but irrespective of ethnicity.) If there is no other factor on the basis of which the distinction between ethnic group A and all other groups is relevant, the so-called 'relevance' is unfounded as it is 'relevance' with respect to a goal in which an irrelevant distinction has already been drawn. Such a goal is a fake focus of relevancy.

The nonrelevant distinction made on the basis of the same factor which is said to be relevant in respect of a certain focal determinant may also be made in the phrasing of the goal. Thus when someone claims that 'e is 'justified in refusing to employ a male au pair girl or a female foreman' needing a good au pair girl or foreman is 'er (fake) focus and sex 'er factor. However, the sexual distinction has already been drawn underhandedly in the focus itself, which should have been needing a good au pair (person) or foreperson in the first place. Those who take this kind of 'reasoning' seriously must be extremely antiegalitarian.

Not seldom is the fallacy involved simply a case of 'factor fuzzing'. For example, when helping students and senior citizens (say, by charging them less for a service) is given as focus and poverty as factor. In the focal determinant the distinction is made then on the basis of age and studentship, presumably because the people mentioned are believed to have no work and no earnings. But this distinction is not relevant, if poverty were really the reason to help people, because then the focus should be helping poor people. Some students, and probably a greater number of people over 55 or 65, may have moderate to high incomes or assets, and other poor people are neither students nor senior citizens.

A focus of relevancy may also be corrective instead of genuine or fake. What is often called "positive", "compensatory" or "reverse discrimination" or "corrective justice" could be said to amount to making a distinction which is relevant in respect of a corrective focus. If the distinction is made on the basis of F, the focus is, for example, the correction of damage suffered by the person or group formerly or elsewhere discriminated against on the basis of F. Altho the distinction may not be relevant in respect of the usual, undisputed focuses (such as the quality of professional work to be done), it is relevant in respect of the goal of correction. Hence, if there is disagreement about the legitimacy of a corrective treatment, it may not be about the relevancy of the distinction itself, but rather about the legitimacy of the focal determinant(s) chosen or to be chosen.

©MVVM, 41-59 ASWW

Model of Neutral-Inclusivity
Book of Instruments
Criterions of Discriminational Irrelevance