Does Morality Require Stupidity? The Case of Forbidden Base Rates

Erin Beeghly (University of Utah)

Imagine that you are an insurance executive. An assistant enters the room and tells you that two individuals want to buy insurance: one from workplace a, the other from workplace b. You consider statistical data. In workplace a, the average cost of insuring workers is much higher than it is in workplace b. You write down your price quotes. Two minutes later, the assistant returns to tell you, by the way, that individuals in workplace a are predominantly female, while that of workplace b are predominantly male. You look at your initial price quotes, noticing that the quote for an individual in a predominantly female workplace is twice as high. Do you change it?

According to psychologists Philip Tetlock et al., you have just found yourself in a normative dilemma (2000). If you decide to revise the quotes because you think it would be unfair or damaging to charge women twice as much for health insurance, you are choosing ethical norms over epistemic ones. Bluntly put, you are choosing to be stupid for ethical reasons. If you stick with your initial quotes, you make a smart decision—a rational decision—but only because you choose to be unfair and penalize an already vulnerable group.

Recently, theorists of implicit bias and stereotyping, including Tamar Gendler (2011), have accepted Tetlock’s example as a case of bona fide conflict between epistemic and moral norms. If they are right, feminists—indeed, anyone concerned about social justice—should be worried. Achieving ideals like fairness and equality would require stupidity.

In this paper, I consider Tetlock et al.’s original experiment, and I argue that it does not show what it is supposed to. That is, it does not illustrate a conflict between epistemic and moral norms. For those of us who decide to revise the rates, this means that we are not violating epistemic norms, thereby making a stupid or irrational judgment, when we decide to act fairly.

If we hope to find actual cases of conflict between epistemic and moral norms, we must thus look elsewhere. What should we be looking for? My suggestion is this: in cases of conflict, a person’s mental states or processes of reasoning processes will be both morally criticisable and epistemically rational. I argue that cases of conflict will be more rare—and harder to empirically verify—than theorists like Tetlock et al. suppose. Moreover, they will be controversial from a philosophical perspective. To defend their existence, one must argue that moral norms apply to actions, as well as to mental states and processes. This contradicts the traditional view that moral norms apply exclusively to actions—they concern how we treat each other, not what we think.

These results are vindicating. They defend laws prohibiting discrimination against historically vulnerable groups, as well as individuals’ attempts to realize ideals of social justice, including feminist ideals.


Feminist Metaphysics and the Canberra Plan

Jade Fletcher (University of Leeds)

This paper elucidates a tension between a promising approach to metaphysical theorising and some contemporary developments in feminist ontology. I defend the wide reaching methodological significance of feminist metaphysics.

The philosophical project known as the Canberra Plan promises an exhaustive metaphysical enterprise. It aims to synthesise a fairly traditional conception of philosophical analysis with a full blooded metaphysical naturalism. The project starts from our pre-philosophical beliefs about the world. These platitudes of common sense are systematised and subjected to conceptual analysis, and we thus derive the truth conditions for the relevant sentences. Finally we must determine, usually via a posteriori investigation, the worldly satisfiers of the truth conditions. One putative advantage of the approach is that it respects our pre-philosophical beliefs, such that we get to take much of our ordinary talk as true, whilst incurring minimal ontological costs.

I argue, however, that whilst this approach may be our best option in domains such as the metaphysics of mind, colour, and modality, it faces a significant problem once we move into the domain of social ontology. In her seminal paper ‘Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them To Be?’, Sally Haslanger presents a metaphysical account of gender and race. It is not her intention to provide an account which correctly characterises how such things are in the world, because, arguably, such things are not in the world. They are in some sense real, but not objective, and certainly not fundamental. Her project is an ameliorative one. It is her intention that her account of gender and race should galvanise political action: once we have come to accept her account of gender and race as correct, we will see that the goal of feminism and anti-racism is to do away with such social categories. Her metaphysical enterprise is revisionary, and the consequences of such a metaphysical theory are socially and politically important.

Whilst I do not explicitly defend the Haslangerian project, I want to defend the viability and importance of the approach. Having detailed the methods of both the Canberra Plan and Haslanger’s project, the paper finally presents what I take to be the upshots of combining them. First, if we allow the Canberra Plan to dictate all metaphysical methodology, we will be forced to both mischaracterise the nature of gender, and endorse misogynistic folk opinion about gender. I argue that this result is unacceptable. Second, in light of this tension we could perhaps hold that feminist ontology is not really ontology, and so is not susceptible to the Canberra treatment. I argue that this option is metaphysically and politically untenable. Third, we could take the incompatibility as uncovering a flaw in the all-encompassing aspirations of the Canberra Plan: its approach cannot accommodate ameliorative projects. This is the option I favour. I conclude that the Canberra Plan must revise its methodological ambitions in light of these theoretical and practical considerations from feminist metaphysics.


What Constitutes What in Intersectionality? – Beyond Mutually Constitutive Models: The Wholeness of Experience

Marta Jorba (University of Girona -LOGOS) &

Maria Rodó de Zárate (Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa)

Within feminist theory and a wide range of social sciences, intersectionality has been a relevant focus of research. Several of its potentialities and limitations have been highlighted, and many authors have analyzed theoretical and empirical work on it. However, an unsolved issue on intersectionality studies is the specification of the nature of the relations among social categories, such as gender, race or class. It is widely assumed that in order to move away from additive ways of conceiving intersectionality, an analytic shift towards endorsing mutually constitutive models is required. We believe that this choice is problematic and that the mutually constitutive relation is simply assumed as the pertinent model without being neither further explored nor analyzed in an accurate way. Moreover, there are different other notions surrounding that of mutual constitution, sometimes used as mere synonyms and others as notions differing from it but that nevertheless do not endorse additive models. In the first part of the talk we provide a new classification of kinds of relations based on the literature on intersectionality: simultaneity, interconnected parts, intensity, supervenience and mutual constitution. Within mutual constitution approaches we distinguish the categories of affecting relations and new formation relations, with two subcategories each. We then provide a detailed critique of why mutual constitution and other kinds of intersectional relations are not able to capture what is at stake in intersectional dynamics.

In the second part of the talk we present our positive approach, as we believe that there is a simplest and easiest way of realizing the analytic shift beyond additive models, and one that can keep its potentials without some of its problems. This new way of understanding the shift towards the complexity of intersectionality emerges from seeing that, instead of focusing on the relation and effect of the interaction of categories, this interaction of categories is played against the background of experience. The role of experience in intersectional dynamics is something not specifically explored in the extant accounts and a crucial aspect of our original proposal. Our model, named “the wholeness of experience”, explores the idea that what happens at the experiential level is that a difference in one category (being woman, man, trans, for instance) implies a difference in experience as a whole, so that social categories constitute the whole of experience at a certain time and space. This fact leads us to a different conceptualization of intersectional relations and a new way to approach the question empirically too. We develop this proposal through the detailed presentation of several of its aspects: (i) the experiential level, (ii) the multifaceted wholeness, (iii) the existential multidependence, (iv) the multirelational specification and the (v) contextual dynamics. It is an original model that is able to keep the potentialities of moving away from additive conceptualizations, with a theorization of the relation among social categories that retains the possibility of naming specific experienced oppressions without essentializing them, while also accounting for the differences (and inequalities) among social groups. The wholeness of experience model presents some conceptual tools that might contribute to a deeper understanding and systematization of intersectional relations and power dynamics.


An Examination of the Idea of Epistemic Advantages of the Epistemically Disadvantaged

Nadja El Kassar (ETH Zürich)

Feminist epistemology continues to make significant progress in the analysis of epistemic disadvantages. Miranda Fricker’s study of epistemic injustice has been accepted as providing helpful tools for describing the reality of the epistemically disadvantaged. More recently, however, epistemologists like José Medina and Alison Bailey have begun calling attention to the advantages available to epistemically disadvantaged subjects. Medina, for example, argues that epistemically disadvantaged subjects have privileged access to important epistemic virtues.

In my talk I examine Medina’s proposal and argue that it is incomplete and therefore misleading. His conception fails to take into account the first–‐person perspective of epistemically disadvantaged subjects. Because of this omission the conception underestimates the force of epistemic disadvantages and prematurely concludes that epistemically disadvantaged subjects have epistemic advantages.

My paper proceeds in three steps. In section 1 I introduce Medina’s idea of epistemic advantages of epistemically disadvantaged subjects. One of his central claims is that oppressed subjects are more likely to acquire the epistemic virtues of open–‐mindedness, curiosity, diligence and epistemic humility, as they are “sensitive to the presence and influence of cognitive forces” (Medina 2013, p. 50). Such sensitivity, in turn, is a prerequisite for the acquisition of epistemic virtues. They are thus in a better position than dominant subjects, who are epistemically arrogant and have not learned to take up other perspectives.

In section 2 I develop my objection against Medina’s conception by looking at the first–personal experiences of epistemically disadvantaged subjects. I focus on one of Fricker’s examples for hermeneutical injustice: Carmita Wood unaware of the concept sexual harassment, couldn’t see her boss’s behavior as sexual harassment, became physically ill and eventually quit her job (Fricker 2009, p. 149). I present a reconstruction of how things might have looked from Wood’s first–‐personal perspective. This reconstruction demonstrates that Wood is neither epistemically advantaged, nor does she exercise Medina’s epistemic virtues. More precisely, I argue that she cannot correctly exercise the epistemic virtues in question. I also present further evidence indicating how Wood’s case is not an exception.

In the final section I consider whether Medina’s claims can be amended. I approach this question by asking what an epistemically disadvantaged subject requires in order to be able to employ the epistemic virtues that Medina has in view. The missing ingredient, I suggest, is what Karen Jones calls “intellectual self–‐trust”. Such self–‐trust, she writes, “manifests itself in feelings of confidence, in dispositions willingly to rely on the deliverances of one’s methods and to assert what 2 is believed on their basis, and in modulating self–‐reflection” (Jones 2012, p. 245). I submit that it is this ability to modulate self–‐reflection, in particular, that enables the epistemically disadvantaged and self–‐trusting subject to exercise the epistemic virtues Medina has in view. She knows when critical self–‐reflection is warranted and when it is not, manifesting open–‐mindedness, curiosity and humility, but in an intellectually self–‐trusting mode. It is, thus, only in conjunction with the virtue of intellectual self–‐trust that an epistemically disadvantaged subject can enjoy epistemic advantages.


A Feminist Challenge to Procedural Accounts of Autonomy

Ji-Young Lee (University of Bristol)

Advocates of procedural autonomy posit that as long as individuals meet the relevant standards of critical reflection, they are autonomous irrespective of the content of their decisions. This makes procedural autonomy content-neutral. In her paper, ‘Autonomy and the Feminist Intuition’, Natalie Stoljar mentions that procedural autonomy is advantageous from some feminist standpoints for its compatibility with socialization and preferences for dependence and obedience. This view promotes maximal inclusivity, and contrasts the presupposition that autonomy is constituted by substantive independence.

Nevertheless, Stoljar objects to procedural autonomy with what she calls ‘the feminist intuition’. According to this intuition, persons who otherwise meet the relevant standards of critical reflection are not autonomous if their decisions are based on false and oppressive norms. She claims procedural theories do not adequately explain this intuition, and calls for a substantive approach requiring ‘normative competence’. For a person to have normative competence they must be able to criticize courses of action by relevant normative standards; this involves true beliefs, and the ability to reflect critically on one’s choices. On her view, persons whose choices are grounded in false and oppressive norms lack normative competence; thus, they lack autonomy.

Though I agree with Stoljar that procedural theories do not adequately explain how oppressive socialization might diminish autonomy, I reject her feminist intuition and account of normative competence. In my response, it is a lack of self-respect, rather than a lack of normative competence, that threatens autonomy. I take two instances of persons who have been socialized to be dysfunctional in their self- respect. One instance is taken from Stoljar’s example of contraceptive risk-takers, and the other from Diana Meyers’ profile of the macho male. Under Stoljar’s account, both cases lack normative competence. It should thereby follow that both examples are jointly classified as non-autonomous. I claim, however, that there is an asymmetry of autonomy between the two cases, revealing the contraceptive risk-taker to be (at the very least) less autonomous than the macho male. The former example lacks self- respect by way of self-abnegation, while the latter does not; this difference accounts for the asymmetry. Thus, my own treatment of autonomy demonstrates that Stoljar’s normative competence account is unduly restrictive.


Bias, Structure, and Injustice: Collective Accountability for Implicit Bias

Robin Zheng (University of Cambridge)

Philosophers and activists have taken great interest in the phenomenon of implicit bias because of the important role it appears to play in explaining persistent social inequalities. Recently, however, Sally Haslanger (2015) has argued that social inequalities are best explained in terms of social structures rather than the attitudes and actions of individuals, and hence that philosophical efforts to respond morally and practically to implicit bias are largely misplaced relative to the goal of enacting structural change. Along parallel lines, Chad Lavin (2011) has argued that the concept of responsibility itself—because it prioritizes the particular actions of particular individuals—is inadequate for dealing with enduring, unjust background conditions such as poverty, racism, and other oppressions.

I argue against Haslanger (2015) and Lavin (2011) that understanding and developing practices of responsibility for implicit bias can play an important role in rectifying structural injustice. To see this, I claim, it is necessary to distinguish between two different concepts of responsibility: attributability and accountability. We are responsible for our actions in the attributability sense only when those actions reflect our identities as moral agents, i.e. when they are attributable to us. We are responsible in the accountability sense when it is appropriate for others to enforce certain expectations and demands on those actions, i.e. to hold us accountable for them. Drawing on Iris Marion Young’s (2011) social connection model of responsibility, I show that even though implicit biases and structural injustice may not be attributable to any particular individual, we can still accountable for collectively organizing to transform the social conditions that give rise to them in the first place. I develop this conception of accountability by appealing to role-based ideals (e.g. being a good teacher, a good parent, neighbor, citizen, friend, etc.) which are distributed across the moral community and which give rise to the expectation that we act through these roles to change our local social structures.

Finally, I offer a number of real-world examples of responses to implicit bias, drawn from each of Patricia Hill Collins’ (1999) four domains of oppression: structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal. These examples demonstrate that explanations invoking implicit bias need not compete with structural explanations, since implicit bias is not only enabled by but is itself an enabler of structure. This is because implicit associations are one of the mechanisms by which agents have and make use of their knowledge of cultural schemas (which, along with resources, constitute the building blocks of social structure). In other words, understanding and addressing implicit bias is a way of understanding and addressing the workings of social structure, since implicit biases are the “grease that oils the machine,” so to speak. Practices of accountability for blocking and eliminating implicit bias, then, figure into larger struggles against structural injustice because they represent starting points for transforming unjust social structures.


Feminism and Basic Income

Anca Gheaus (University of Sheffield/Umea)

The idea of introducing a basic, unconditional income has been a divisive issue amongst feminists. Its supporters see it as an effective, and maybe the best, means of freeing women from dependency on male bread-winners, abusive domestic relationships and exploitative, meaningless jobs. But many feminists have also worried that an unconditional basic income would sponsor, to some extent, women’s exit from the labour market. This, in turn, would deepen the economic gap between women and men. Moreover, feminists are concerned with the ways in which an unconditional basic income could consolidate various social gender norms. I will discuss these feminists arguments with the aim of arriving to an all-things-considered assessment of the feminist credentials of an unconditional basic income. I shall concede that its introduction would indeed be likely to consolidate gender norms which, in turn, shape women’s and men’s unequal opportunities to various important goods. This, at least, would be the case if we failed to introduce, at the same time, other, mitigating, policies. I used to think that, if correct, this conclusion determines a feminist case against the unconditional basic income. In the meanwhile, however, I came to doubt that the principle of equal opportunities has much normative weight in a world characterised by very large inequalities of outcome. In such circumstances we ought to be more concerned instead with the situation of the worst off. If a universal basic income would, on the whole, advance the interests of the worst off women – as it probably would – feminists should support it even if it came at the price of setting back some of the interests of other, less worse-off, women and men.