The empiricist holds that all knowledge comes from experience. Whether that’s true or not, it’s clearly false of any useful knowledge. Assuming I can trust in my own perceptions and the reports of others, I know that every day, up to and including yesterday, the sun rose in the east and set in the west and travelled in a southern arc across the sky. But what I need to know, when deciding between a house with a north-facing living room and one with a south-facing one, is whether it will continue to do so tomorrow. And that can only be inferred. So all useful knowledge comes not from our experience but from inducing from our experience.
And why inducing rather than deducing? Because whatever might be deduced from the laws of physics governing the movement of heavenly bodies – including, if you like, the meta-law that the laws governing the movement of heavenly bodies don’t change – those laws themselves could only have been induced. In short, it’s induction all the way down!
90% of Swedes are Lutheran. Sven is a Swede. Does that mean that Sven is a Lutheran? No. But all other things being equal, it’d be a safe enough bet, provided I don’t bet the family farm on it.
But all other things might not be equal. If I saw Sven coming out of a synagogue, that he’s a Lutheran might not be a safe enough bet. The difference between a deductive inference and an inductive one, then, is what logicians call monotonicity. Any conclusion that follows from a deductive argument will continue to follow no matter how many premises might be added to the argument. So deductive arguments are said to be monotonic. But as we saw with Sven’s attendance at the synagogue, adding a premise to an inductive argument might significantly alter the likelihood of the conclusion. Hence inductive arguments are said to be non-monotonic.
The ability to safely operate a motor vehicle increases with age, reaches an acceptable level at about 16, continues to increase with experience, and then begins to fall off as one approaches her 80’s. We could test infants and centenarians, since one could be an outlier. Provided we’d given him a booster seat, five-year-old little Johnny took the family car for a joy ride and drove from New York to Los Angeles without a single infraction. But we’ve decided that, unfair as it might be, testing every five-year-old is a financial burden on the rest of us without adequate probability of payoff. What we’ve done then – and there’s no way around this – is we’ve stereotyped infants and centenarians. Have we wrongly stereotyped them? No we have not.
I run a crew where having no fewer than ten workers is a matter of life and death. I’ve induced – and every crew chief I’ve ever talked to has induced the same – that members of ethnicity X are significantly less likely than other workers to turn up for work. So all other things being equal – and as with the case of Johnny the driving prodigy, I don’t have the resources to ensure that they are equal – given a choice between a job candidate of ethnicity X and one not of ethnicity X, I lean to the latter over the former. Have I stereotyped members of ethnicity X? Certainly. But have I wrongly stereotyped members of ethnicity X?
Let me be clear. To stereotype is just to induce. Are some inductions false? Of course. It’s true that some Scots are cheap, some Blacks are lazy, and some Chinese people are good at math. But it’s false that Scots are cheap, or that Blacks are lazy, or that Chinese are good at math. So if I don’t hire a Black worker because I think he’s likely to be lazy, there’s no doubt that I’ve wrongly stereotyped him. But in which of these three senses of ‘wrongly’?
- Have I wronged him because the stereotype was wrong?
- Have I wronged him because, as with little Johnny, as it happens he doesn’t fit the stereotype? Or
- have I wronged him simply because I’ve stereotyped him, whether or not the stereotype is wrong, or whether or not he fits the stereotype?
If (1), then it seems to me that any ongoing injustice can be averted by having my misconception corrected. This will ameliorate any injustice to Blacks, but it will do nothing for little Johnny, nor for the job applicant of ethnicity X. If (2), then there is no stereotype for the Black not to fit. But again, it will do nothing for little Johnny or the applicant of ethnicity X. That is, by neither the first nor the second sense has either been wronged. So it’s (3) and only (3) that warrants any further moral assessment. And since no one thinks little Johnny’s been wronged, what remains is the putative injustice to the job applicant of ethnicity X.
Now then, some people think that whether we stereotype him or not, what’s at issue, and all that’s at issue, is whether we’re entitled to act on that stereotype. To, in other words, not hire him. And that, I think even the SJW is loath to concede, depends very centrally on the direness of the outcome if the worker should prove unreliable. The IDF will not assign a Palestinian conscript to cover a retreat. So the SJW must hold the view that we can bear the cost if it should it turn out that applicant of ethnicity X is unreliable, where by ‘we’ is meant those who are not the SJW herself. Put her on the crew and watch how fast her perspective changes.
What can we conclude from this? Not a damn thing. Because, well, we’re not allowed to.
Categories: Social and Political Philosophy