Philosophy & Implicit Bias

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One of the most difficult elements of implicit biases is precisely that they’re implicit and not explicit, so they can influence our thinking and potentially marginalize people or groups of people without a conscious effort to do so. For example, a CV is rated more highly when it’s associated with a male’s name than when the identical CV has a woman’s name attached to it even when the reviewers hold themselves to be neutral. What’s been demonstrated, though, is that talking explicitly about implicit bias can help.

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This website, Looks Philosophical, helps resist some stereotypes about philosophers and philosophy by showing that there’s a lot more to being a philosopher than being an old guy with a beard. We’re actually a pretty fun and diverse bunch!

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Recently there’s been a very conscious effort to combat implicit bias and stereotype threat in philosophy. At the website, Implicit Bias and Philosophy, philosophers are tackling these important questions. Why is it that particular groups, especially women and people of color, are underrepresented in philosophy? It’s obviously not the case that people of underrepresented groups are not good philosophers. It’s also not the case that many philosophers are directly hostile to groups. But by continuing to use gendered language, e.g. consistently or exclusively referring to a person with male pronouns, or by using examples that reinforce images of men as independent, rational thinkers, or women as hysterical or meek, or by associating people of color with frightening situations, or assuming that all persons are able bodied, or by putting together conferences that have only male speakers, philosophers end up reinforcing stereotypes and the discipline becomes hostile to different groups or, at the very least, isn’t very inclusive. I think philosophers need to make genuine attempts at inclusivity, which is more than just diversity for the sake of diversity, and to continue these conscious efforts to mitigate implicit bias and stereotype threat. Excellent philosophers come in all stripes and we need to do a better job of highlighting this and celebrating it.

What do you think? Are these problems endemic to philosophy? What other ways might philosophers, or all of us in general, work against these sorts of biases?

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