In our last round of Philosophy Tag, Eric Beerbohm (Harvard) tagged Miranda Fricker (Sheffield) for her essay “Silence and Institutional Prejudice.” Professor Fricker (who has been busy elsewhere in the philosoblogosphere this week) has now broken her silence on who she has tagged. Let’s see who it is.
I was recently working on issues of our epistemic responsibility for prejudiced thinking, and this gave me occasion to read a fabulous recent paper by Sarah-Jane Leslie–‘The Original Sin of Cognition: Fear, Prejudice and Generalization‘ (forthcoming in Journal of Philosophy). In it she offers a rich discussion of a particular kind of negative stereotyping, namely the kind that involves generalising morally horrifying behaviour (such as terrorist violence) from a small number of individuals to a whole group. The key idea I found so helpful is the idea that this is an epistemically and metaphysically bad version of a style of respectable generalisation which she calls ‘striking property’ generalisation, where ‘striking’ indicates danger or risk of harm. (One of her examples is ‘Mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus’ where in fact less than 1% of them do.) Such generalisations are normally read as true; whereas a statistically similar generalisation of the first kind, such as ‘Muslims are terrorists’ is manifestly not true. How is the first true and the second false? Because the first is implicitly dependent on an epistemically and metaphysically respectable presumption of a shared essence among mosquitoes (their capacity to carry disease given half a chance) while there is clearly no such shared essence among Muslims or any social group. Great diagnosis. Thanks for a terrific paper Sarah-Jane Leslie!–and now you’re it!