Volume 29, Issue 2, 2019
James Calvin Davis
Privilege as Moral Vice
A Christian Ethical Perspective on Socio-Economic Inequality and Higher Education in the US
The admissions cheating scandal illustrated how colleges and universities in the US depend upon and reinforce socio-economic privilege. The first part of this paper uses a Reformed Christian approach to moral virtue to analyze privilege in higher education as an ethical problem. Understanding privilege as moral vice clarifies the relationships between practices, attitudes, and intentions we associate with privilege. The second part of this paper contrasts ethical frameworks prominent in the discourse on higher education with a commitment to the common good. Within an ethics of the common good, privilege’s function as vice becomes clear, as does its deleterious effect on US higher education’s “original intent.” Ultimately, cultivation of a “character of inclusion” is the necessary antidote to the vice of privilege, to realign higher education with its historic responsibility to the common good of a just society.