It is high time to have a further look at the principle which has made us interested in the phenomenon of relevancy in the first place. Most generally speaking it is expressed in the idea that relevance is something good (more technically speaking, normatively superior) and irrelevance something bad (normatively inferior). At this point one may wonder whether the existence of a distinction is not yet presupposed then, or that the idea is only concerned with distinctions which do already exist (are already made or on the verge of being made). Only in the former case are sins of omission as bad as sins of commission.

Another question is that of the generality of the idea. Does it express a personal or a universal principle of relevance? If we confine ourselves to the relevancy of distinctions, the formulations of these two versions of the same principle differ as follows:

  • personal version of the principle of discriminational relevance: one should not make a distinction which is not relevant (and one should make a distinction which is relevant);
  • universal version of the principle of discriminational relevance: one should not make a distinction which is not relevant or the relevance of which depends on a nonrelevant distinction made (or on the not making of a relevant distinction, and one should make a distinction which is relevant unless this relevance depends on a nonrelevant distinction made, or on the not making of a relevant distinction).

Now, universal adoption of either the personal or the universal version of the principle would make no difference, but the difference may be enormous if neither version is adopted by all people. Someone adopting the personal instead of the universal version might reason that one can only decide about what one shall do or not do oneself, and that one must take the decisions of other people as givens (as 'imposed relevances' in phenomenological terms). 'E might say "even tho other people's attitudes and practises are a flagrant violation of the requirement of relevance, i cannot help it, and those attitudes and practises may be most relevant in respect of a genuine objective of myself, altho personally i do not approve of them". Granted that this person really could not change other people's attitudes and practises --an assumption which can be challenged--, 'e still has not provided a reason to adopt the personal instead of universal version of the principle of relevance. Also the universal version presupposes personal freedom, the freedom to decide oneself what distinction to draw, and what distinction not to draw. It only provides an additional criterion to base that freely taken decision upon, namely that it should not depend on nonrelevance.

Where causality plays a significant part, those adopting the universal version take the situation or the conditions to be considered in the widest perspective possible. They take care that the causal connection on which the relevance of a distinction depends, does not involve a (discriminatory) attitude or practise of making a nonrelevant distinction on the basis of the same or another factor. Where this discriminatory attitude or practise is found in the person or group itself, the relevancy is dependent on internal nonrelevance. A criterion to do away with internal nonrelevance must even be accepted by someone espousing the personal version of the relevance principle. For example, if someone dislikes members of a certain group and this dislike rests on fake and pseudofactual relevancy (and/or false belief), then the exclusion of members of that group by 'imself and for 'imself may be 'relevant', if the focus is 'er own happiness or well-being. Yet, such relevancy depends on a dislike which is based on internal nonrelevance (and/or falsehood), a dislike which may be the result of a discriminatory upbringing or milieu. The past and present nonrelevant distinctions underlying the person's dislike of members of the group in question should itself already have been abstained from in the first place, even according to the personal version of the principle of discriminational relevance.

A person rejecting the universal version of the principle of relevance will actually reject every criterion doing away with external nonrelevance. Thus 'e may not only assign relevance to other people's discriminatory attitudes and practises but also perpetuate (knowingly or not) these very attitudes and practises by making 'relevant' distinctions which take them into account. Some theorists call this "rational discrimination": a form of discrimination which is the result of rational deliberation, rather than of mere prejudice. In comparison to the latter, 'irrational' form of discrimination it would be easy to combat, they say, by legislation imposing big fines on discriminators. The mere possibility of such a fine would already tip the scale of the 'rational thinker' in favor of nondiscrimination. But our present concern is not whether a certain kind of making distinctions may and should be forbidden by law or not; our present concern is whether this kind of making distinctions is a form of 'discrimination' to be condemned from the point of view of the relevance principle regardless of whether the distinctions in question happen to be legal or not in a particular country. By suggesting that 'rational discrimination' would be relatively easy to combat it is already assessed and condemned as something immoral or bad. Such a condemnation makes implicit use of the universal version of the discriminational relevance principle, according to which not only dependence on internal but also on external nonrelevance is indicative of imperfection or normative inferiority.

In no respect
the world is one and uniform.*
In every irrelevant respect
the world remains one and uniform.
In a relevant respect
at least one distinction can be made,
which only then makes it biform,
which only then makes it multiform.
In infinitely many other respects
the world is one and uniform.

[*: if the world is not considered at all, not any distinction is drawn with respect to this world, that is, neither relevant nor irrelevant]

©MVVM, 41-57 ASWW

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