Against Equality of Opportunity

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Against Equality of Opportunity
Against equality of opportunity.jpg
Author Matt Cavanagh
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Political philosophy
Publisher Clarendon Press
Pages 232

Against Equality of Opportunity is a 2002 book by Matt Cavanagh.[1] The work is a critique of the doctrine of equal opportunity. Cavanagh argues against the conventional understanding of equal opportunity, in particular both meritocracy and most substantial interpretations of equality, including the idea of ‘equal life chances’. Instead, he argues for a more limited approach of trying to eliminate specific kinds of discrimination (including race discrimination), together with trying to provide enough opportunities, and help to access them, such that most people have some degree of control over their lives.[2]


Allegations of racism[edit]

The book caused some controversy when the author was appointed as an adviser to then Labour Minister David Blunkett when it was revealed that the book argued that it was sometimes rational (in an economic sense) for white employers to discriminate against black applicants[3] which in some eyes amounted to effectively condoning racial discrimination.[4]

This led to widespread calls for Cavanagh to be sacked, with questions tabled in Parliament, and the affair rumbled on for a few days. The Guardian's letters page carried a balance of letters for and against Cavanagh.[5]

Reviews and academic reaction[edit]

The book received positive reviews in the Times Educational Supplement[6] The Spectator,[2] and in academic journals including Ethics,[7] Notre Dame Philosophical Review,[8] Theory and Research in Education[9] and Contemporary Political Theory.[10]

Other reviews were more mixed, including the London Review of Books,[11] The Independent,[1] Philosophical Books[12] and Political Studies Review[13] and Utilitas, the latter two arguing that the work does not adequately engage other scholarly literature relating to equality of opportunity by authors such as Joel Feinberg or George Sher.


  1. ^ a b "Against Equality of Opportunity by Matt Cavanagh - Reviews". The Independent. London. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b Against Equality of Opportunity Review in The Spectator Archived May 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Hasan Suroor, "Asian MPs protest `racist' remarks of Blunkett's adviser", The Hindu, 22 March 20045
  4. ^ Kite, Melissa; Syal, Rajeev (21 March 2004). "Labour's black and Asian members demand sacking of Blunkett race adviser". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  5. ^ "Letters: Philosophy and the real world". The Guardian. London. 22 March 2004. 
  6. ^ John Dunn, "Why we should spurn equality and meritocracy", Times Educational Supplement, 21 June 2002
  7. ^ "The American Economic Review". 16: 670–675. JSTOR 10. 
  8. ^ Louis Pojman, Matt Cavanagh - Against Equal Opportunity - Review, Philosophical Reviews, University of Notre Dame, 1 December 2002
  9. ^ [1] Theory and Research in Education, vol 2(1), (March 2004), pp85-96
  10. ^ Knowles, Dudley (2003). "Against Equality of Opportunity review". Contemporary Political Theory. 2: 131–133. 
  11. ^ Jeremy Waldron, "Deservingness", London Review of Books, Vol. 24, No. 18, 19 September 2002, page 10
  12. ^ Rowan Cruft, "AGAINST EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY", Philosophical Books, Volume 46, Issue 1, pages 59–65, January 2005
  13. ^ Andrew Mason, AGAINST EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY Archived September 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., Political Studies Review, Volume 1, Issue 3, pages 346–382, September 2003