The Reflectiveness That Makes Us More Opaque To Ourselves

Towards the end of an in-depth and highlyy informative interview with Marya Schechtman (UIC) about the philosophy of personal identity, interviewer Richard Marshall asks her about “difficulties for women in the academy” and whether there’s “something weird going on in philosophy departments that is avoided elsewhere.” Schechtman’s answer includes the following intriguing idea:

One thing that may contribute in a strange way is the toolkit of the philosophical trade. Philosophers typically have a strong explicit commitment to equity and inclusion. Since the profession involves so much reflection and introspection, I think that we can sometimes assume that since we reflect so hard and approach all appearances with skepticism we are immune to implicit or undetected bias, even though empirical work makes it pretty clear that virtually no one is. Our reflectiveness may thus ironically make us more opaque to ourselves in some ways than those who are, for instance, regularly tracking empirical results in their work.

There is some empirical support for related ideas, such as the overconfidence effect in experts and bias blind spot. In any event, I thought it was an interesting suggestion worth flagging. Thoughts welcome.

"Twisted" by Amanda Clyne

“Twisted” by Amanda Clyne

Horizons Sustainable Financial Services
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D. F.
D. F.
7 years ago

Seems plausible. And if that’s true, then there might be another layer of psychological and/or social pressure, too: to be biased against disadvantaged peoples isn’t just to be a bad person, we could think, but a bad philosopher as well. Thus, on top of having this blind spot, to insist that one isn’t biased, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, would be to insist on one’s legitimacy as a philosopher. If we experience accusations of bias as a kind of existential attack that demands an urgent and desperate rebuttal, then it makes even more sense why our vaunted self-reflectiveness would stop at the limits of that question.

7 years ago

Perhaps compounded by the plausible increased ability of philosophers to justify away their words/behaviors/actions through complex and strategically designed abstract theorizing.