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Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's 'Oppression'

Alison Bailey

Illinois State Universtiy, College of Arts and Sciences - Philosophy Department


Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 29, No. 3, Winter 1998

This essay serves as both a response and embellishment of Marilyn Frye's now classic essay "Oppression." It is meant to pick up where this essay left off and to make connections between oppression, as Frye defines it, and the privileges that result from institutional structures. This essay tries to clarify one meaning of privilege that is lost in philosophical discussions of injustice. I develop a distinction between unearned privileges and earned advantages. Clarifying the meaning of privilege as unearned structural advantage makes visible the role white privilege plays in maintaining complex systems of domination such as racism, sexism, heterosexism and classism. Using a critical reading of both Frye (1983) and Young's (1990) accounts of oppression as a springboard, I develop a definition of privilege as a particular class of unearned advantages.

I distinguish my account of privilege from standard legal and philosophical definitions of privilege. The general distinction I make between privileges and advantages rests on three interrelated claims: (a) that benefits granted by privilege are always unearned and conferred systemically to members of dominant social groups; (b) that privileges granted to members of dominant groups solely on the basis of their membership in these groups is never justifiable; and, (c) that privileges have an unconditional value that can be explained not only in terms of immunities, but also in terms of additional benefits.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 9

Keywords: White Privilege, Oppression, Marilyn Frye

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Date posted: January 29, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Bailey, Alison, Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's 'Oppression' (1998). Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 29, No. 3, Winter 1998. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1334782

Contact Information

Alison Bailey (Contact Author)
Illinois State Universtiy, College of Arts and Sciences - Philosophy Department ( email )
412 Stevenson Hall (4540)
Illinois State University
Normal, IL 61790-4540
United States
309.438.5617 (Phone)
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