Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Implicit and Explicit Biases

327 days until classes start.

I have finished Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, and I have begun Henry Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics.

As a defender of classic utilitarianism, Sidgwick is not as famous as John Stuart Mill or Jeremy Bentham, but he is considered a better philosopher in terms of the quality and consistency of his arguments. Furthermore, I found his name prominently mentioned in course descriptions at the University of Colorado. These all give me reason to refamiliarize myself with this book.

Of course, another reason it is important is as a vehicle for presenting some of my ideas. In the chapters that I have already read, I have found opportunities to talk about intrinsic value and the relationship between desire and value.

Given the importance of this work, I am going to give it some special attention. I wish to use this blog to store some notes and thoughts that may serve as the foundation for one of those future papers.

In other news, I listed to a podcast of a presentation at the London School of Economics titled, "Women in Science: Past, Present, and Future Challenges".

This podcast told of the value of having women in science. For example, it helps to aim the scientific method at questions that concern women. Male researchers on animals tend to focus on the behavior of males - dominance rituals, for example. The introduction g female researchers has resulted in more research being done on the female portion from of the animal kingdom.

In economics, female researchers shifted the paradigm economic model of the family as a unit consisting of a benevolent dictator and his subjects, to a model that sees the family as a community of individuals with certain interdependencies and conflicting interests.

Interestingly, a previous podcast from the London School of Economics concerned How Philosophy Drives Discovery: A Scientist's View of Popper". A part of that discussion concerned Popper's objection to the idea that scientists derive general rules from a set of observations (because there are always an infinite set of generalizations consistent with any finite set of data). Instead, scientists come up with general rules as a burst of inspiration, then seek to falsify them. Here, a diversity of scientists with a diversity of experiences is useful for coming up with a diverse range of inspired general rules to attempt to falsify - for the general benefit of science in specific and society in general.

The research that the presenters provided on implicit biases that prevent female scientists from reaching their potential partially informed my claims in the previous post about biases against female presidential candidates. It is virtually certain that at least some of the opposition to Clinton consists of rationalization (an struggle to find a legitimate-sounding reason) for what is, in fact, an emotional reaction to the idea of a woman seeking such a position.

Some people have responded to these accusations by saying, "I would have supported Elizabeth Warren or Jill Stein." However, is this true? Since neither are actually in a position where they could become President, they are not in a position to stir the same emotions - in the same way that thinking about looking over the edge of a cliff or asking somebody on a date does not feel like actually doing so. Let them become an actual threat to hold such power, and there will be a lot of people finding credibility in objections raised against them as well.

Of course, this gives is not true of everybody, and the existence of a few individuals on the extreme end of the bell curve is not proof that the bell curve does not exist. In fact, research shows that virtually all of us has some implicit bias, so that each of us is disposed to judge a female candidate less suitable for the office she seeks than she is in fact. Women and men both have this bias. For some of us, this difference is not enough to have an impact on out vote. However, there is inevitably some portion of the population for which this is not the case.

This election gives us an account of the potentially huge social cost of this bias, as it can potentially put us under the leadership of Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton.

We all have many and strong reasons to discourage the use of these irrelevant standards of quality. It puts less qualified people in charge of important functions and keeps more qualified people out. Furthermore, each of us is at risk of falling victim to some prejudice or other - age, height, weight, physical attractiveness. Or we know and care about someone disadvantaged by these standards.

We may imagine that there could be a few who benefit from these prejudices (for a time), but that does not change the fact that people generally have many and strong reasons to object to such standards.

These principles apply as much to philosophy as they do to science and to Presidential candidates. Philosophy has long recognized that it is objectionable to assess an argument by assessing the individual. Such reasoning is identified by the name, "argumentum ad hominem" and is rejected as fallacious. What philosophers need to add to this is the fact that living up to this standard is very, very difficult (but also very important).

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