Suppose there is some heteregenous society, which majority and minority groups. There is a proposal by the government/media in society to increase the representation of minority group by giving them some form of reservation, this gives some pushback by people saying that, if we increase the representation of minority group, then they would be underrepresenting the true size of the majority group. Hence... a paradox?

Is this really a paradox? If not, why is it not?


  1. I speak about minority groups here not marginalized groups/communities

  2. My question is different from this previous one I asked, because this one is more about the end effect of taking an act with intents to reduce discrimination rather than about the act in itself.

  • By forcing small communities to have disproportionate representation we're politically forcing the rule of communities that naturally tend to extinction. No paradox here.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 6:04
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    What is the goal of increasing the representation of the minority groups? Commented May 24, 2023 at 6:46
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    The standard approach to this problem is to set a minimum proportion, below which a group does not get specific representation. Allocations need to be rounded for practical reasons. It is quite complicated in practice. This link deals with Germany, but the same system is used in the UK for the Scottish, Welsh and London Assemblies. electoral-reform.org.uk/…
    – Ludwig V
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 9:07
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    Asking this question in its general form creates unnecessary problems. There needs to be a criterion for distinguishing between any arbitrary minority and a minority that needs/deserves specific representation. Member of the darts club at the "Dog and Duck" pub are a minority. But they don't need representation in the Westminster Parliament.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 9:11
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    The title and body of the question do not ask the same thing. Are you asking about minority groups (anything that composes <50% of the population) or underrepresented groups (groups whose representation is proportionally lower than their population size)?
    – Sandejo
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 3:20

3 Answers 3


Per methodological (if not metaphysical) individualism, one could say that representing anyone may be construed as representing a minority. So if a state ever sponsors even a single person's representation in the media, then the state is already in the business of promoting a minority viewpoint.

If individuals who have been heretofore represented have enough money to sponsor their own media presence, one might argue there's some injustice in state promotion of their messages unless the state then promotes messages from people who lack the funding to independently self-promote. (Or one could argue there's injustice either way, in both directions; perhaps states shouldn't be in the business of promoting messages.)

As @Ludwig V notes, the question seems too general to have a specified answer. I'd suggest that the zero-sum picture of "representing one group comes at the expense of under-representing another" is possibly doubtful, though.

  • I agree it doesn't necessarily happen. A large group and a small(ish) proportion of the population in under-represented groups should be (roughly) OK. But a lot depends on the details of the case under consideration. I don't think one can rule it out. Given reasonable good will, it should be possible to negotiate a solution.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 15:14
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    I've been thinking about the fear of "representing one group comes at the expense of under-representing another". It doesn't make any sense. If you have a representative body of 50, a population of 500 and a minority group of 100 or 20%, the majority group is 80% of the population. If 100 or 20% of the representative body are from the minority, 400 or 80% will be from the general population. The only source of disproportionate representation will be rounding errors, due to the fact that you have to have a whole number of representatives in each group.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 20:22
  • A more dangerous and more realistic fear is the fear that including excluded minorities in the competition for things like University places where supply is limited will increase competition for these things, making life more difficult for the groups that aare benefiting from the exclusion of the minority.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 20:26
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    It would be better if selection for all these things could be "blind" to which group candidates belong to; Best of all would be that no-one cares which group people belong to. Sadly, we're a long way off that, and these measures are a lot better than nothing.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 20:30
  • "Yes!! We are all individuals!!" - Monty Python's Life of Brian
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 19:27

A paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory statement.

What is paradoxical here? The goal of "representation" is not explicitly stated. It is therefore not possible to detect any self-contradictory aspect, since there is no point at which an explicit goal is contradicted.

Example: Suppose the goal of "representation" was to provide role models for those in the minority. Any supposed under-representation of the majority is thus brushed aside. The majority has role models. Thus any prejudicial discrimination is purported to be acceptable because it is a minority that is being helped, and the majority is only being slightly harmed, if at all. The issues of ethics and morality of the pro-minority discriminatory actions are thus sidestepped.

Example: Suppose the goal of "representation" were explicitly racist. Suppose those proposing it explicitly believed that the minority group was a superior race. Again, there is nothing paradoxical in such an attempt. These attitudes and actions are judged on the basis of their racism, rather than on questions of internal logic of their programs. Their goals are not self contradictory, since they do not want the majority to be represented in any sense fairly. They explicitly want to shut out the majority as much as possible. It's immoral but not self contradictory.

It is only if we presume that there is a right to be proportionally represented, and that anything else is not ethical or not moral. And that the various societal authorities have the right, responsibility, and mandate to make such adjustments, only in such cases do contradictions arise. But they arise long before minority representation in the media.

For example, they arise when we consider such issues as the demographics of people work as garbage collectors, roofers, coal miners, etc. All of the dirty, dangerous, unpleasant jobs that typically go to the less considered portions of society. We can see that quite clearly when we ask where the programs are to induce the minority to take jobs picking up trash by the highway. After all, if proportional representation is a moral good, if non-proportionality is not moral, then it is clearly equally not moral for people who read the news as it is for people who operate septic tank cleaning services.

  • "We can see that quite clearly when we ask where the programs are to induce the minority to take jobs picking up trash by the highway." I'm afraid that there is no need for such programmes, since these jobs are disproportionately done by minority groups already. If anything, we need to encourage majority groups to take them.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 20:34
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    @LudwigV Oh, yes, garbagemen are 50% women. Yep. Representation.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 22:45
  • :) Very funny. I apologize for my slip. I should have said "by certain minority groups". But it does reinforce the point that it is dangerous to talk in general about minority groups with paying attention to cases and to the reasons why some cases of over- or under- representation are important and others not. and to the criteria for how much representation should be.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 7:06

The word paradox has a number of meanings. In philosophy and logic it is usually meant as a statement or argument that is self-contradictory. In that sense, positive discrimination in favour of a minority is not a paradox.

Paradox can also be used in an everyday sense to refer to something that has contradictory qualities. Again, giving positive treatment to a minority is not inherently paradoxical in that sense. However, it could have a paradoxical quality, depending on the aim of the policy. For example, if the purpose was to reduce some form of discrimination, you might say it seems paradoxical to do so by discriminating.

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