The rational impermissibility of accepting (some) racial generalizations
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I argue that inferences from highly probabilifying racial generalizations (e.g. believing that Jones is a janitor, on the grounds that most Salvadoreans at the school are janitors) are not solely objectionable because acting on such inferences would be problematic, or they violate a moral norm, but because they violate a distinctively epistemic norm. They involve accepting a proposition when, given the costs of a mistake, one is not adequately justified in doing so. First I sketch an account of the nature of adequate justification—practical adequacy with respect to eliminating the \(\lnot p\) possibilities from one’s epistemic statespace. Second, I argue that inferences based on demographic generalizations tend to disproportionately expose group members to the risks associated with mistakenly assuming stereotypical propositions, and so magnify the wrong involved in relying on such inferences without adequate justification.
KeywordsEpistemology Acceptance Generalizations Statistical evidence Moral encroachment Epistemic risk
This work grew out of conversations with Rima Basu, John Hawthorne, and Mark Schroeder, who each also generously gave me comments on several drafts, and to whom I owe particular gratitude. Thanks also to Michael Ashfield, Julianne Chung, Justin D’Ambrosio, Kenny Easwaran, Georgi Gardiner, Alan Hájek, Elizabeth Jackson, Ethan Landes, Dustin Locke, Jonathan Quong, and James Willoughby for helpful comments, and to Matthew Babb, Maegan Fairchild, Sahar Joakim, Colin Klein, Jeremy Strasser, Jake Ross, and the audiences at the 2016 Arché Epistemology Workshop at St. Andrews, the Talbot Philosophical Society at Biola University, and the 2017 St. Louis Annual Conference on Reasons and Rationality, for fruitful discussion of earlier versions of this material.
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