Current Projects

When Testimony Isn’t Enough: Implicit Bias Research as Epistemic Injustice

In this paper I show that an Epistemic Injustice is occurring within the discipline of philosophy. This injustice arises through the systemic undervaluing of work done by critical race theorists and philosophy of race scholars that explains histories and systems of racism. The discipline has largely failed to take these contributions seriously. However, after the advent of the Implicit Association Test, many philosophers—philosophers that had not previously focused on these subjects—began work on race, racism, and implicit racial attitudes. Now that scientific evidence for racism was found, these philosophers were now both convinced of the existence and harms of this particular social ill and interested in studying it. Utilizing the literature on Epistemic Injustice, this paper provides a framework for understanding these injustices and strategies for moving toward equity. This project is metaphilosophic in nature; I utilize resources developed by philosophers in order to analyze the discipline and its research practices. I begin with Fricker’s (2007) initial notions of identity-prejudiced credibility deficit testimonial injustice and hermeneutical injustice. I then move toward expanded accounts of Epistemic Injustice to make my argument. Rather than focusing on the ways in which speakers are not given the credibility they deserve or an injustice may render a part of the world unintelligible to structurally marginalized individuals, I shift my emphasis to the failure of dominant or privileged groups to recognize individuals as knowers or to take up the highly developed and nuanced hermeneutical resources for understanding that are developed by the non-dominant, marginalized, or oppressed.

Activism and the Armchair: Why Philosophers Need Not Stay Out of Politics

Scholars working in Philosophy of Mind have traditionally had little to say about the political sphere or the ways in which a greater understanding of the mind might affect political change. However, in the past several years, many philosophers working in this area have turned their attention to implicit bias, including the ways our increased understanding might change our practices in and outside of our academic settings. This turn outward has led many of these philosophers to engage in activism related to their academic findings. In his paper In Defense of the Ivory Tower: Why Philosophers Should Stay Out of Politics (2015), Bas van der Vossen argues that it is wrong for academics to be involved with political activism. In this paper I argue against this conclusion.

First, I challenge van der Vossen’s conception of what it means to be politically active. Specifically, I argue that his view does not give a principled way of deciding what and what is not political activism. Second, I challenge the ideal that our philosophic reasoning and arguments should be completely sterilized from bias. He writes that a problem with political activism is that it “negatively affect[s] our ability to honestly and impartially weigh the evidence” (1052). The empirical evidence about reasoning and bias does not support the idea that we ready and reliably have the ability to do so. Third, I argue against van der Vossen’s proposal that there should be a “division of labor” between activists and political philosophers in that philosophers come up with principles and activists implement them. Finally, I argue that abstaining from political activism cannot be reasonably expected from those that would otherwise be directly affected by the results of political activism, e.g. women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, etc. Though he may rightly claim that political activism simpliciter is not necessary to have a good life, he is wrong to think that a good life is afforded to all without the results of political activism.

Informal Institutions and the Double Life of Social Norms (with Daniel R. Kelly)

In this paper we will do three things. First, we describe Charlotte Witt’s way of conceptualizing social reality, and the way it suggests that the pursuit of social justice needs to focus not just on individuals and their choices but on the social norms and social roles to which individuals are bound. Second, we review recent empirical work on the psychology of social norms, and the light that work sheds on individual behaviors, social interactions, and collective dynamics. Third, we will show how these two approaches are neatly compatible and mutually informative, and together suggest that an important component of “social reality” lies between decision making agents and their individual psychologies, on the one hand, and formal institutions and their explicit laws and codified procedures, on the other. Social norms are the key element of these informal institutions, playing the pivotal role in mediating between individual and group behaviors. Attempts to reconcile psychological with structural explanations of social injustice should recognize this middle level of social reality, and attempts to address prejudice and oppression should leverage what is known about both the individual and group properties of social norms to more effectively influence social roles and informal institutions.

When Bias is Wrong: Beyond Responsibility & Epistemic Virtue

In much of the contemporary literature on implicit bias, rather than directly answering the question of its moral wrongness, philosophers have focused on moral responsibility for or the epistemic problems with implicit bias. In the first case, they argue that implicit bias meets the control requirements necessary for moral responsibility and blameworthiness, and in the second they argue either that implicit biases are wrong if and only if they are inaccurate or that implicit biases are a failure of self-knowledge and intentional agency. Though these discussions give us insight into the nature of implicit bias and the normative categories that may apply, they do not give an account of where the moral wrongness lies. Thus, one could argue that though one is responsible for her implicit bias, there is nothing wrong with such biases. A similar argument can be made for the epistemic case. In this paper I’ll draw on well-established accounts of racism to argue that implicit racial biases are wrong. I’ll argue that implicit racial biases can be fundamental bearers of the property racist and are appropriately given the predicate ‘racist’ when certain conditions are met. These conditions are constrained by the cognitive nature of implicit bias, the content, and attempts at changing, controlling, or otherwise limiting these biases. In identifying the particular nature of this wrong, rather than assuming it, this paper contributes to the literature on implicit bias, particularly with respect to accountability and moral blameworthiness.