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’? 

  1. Have I wronged him because the stereotype was wrong? 
  2. Have I wronged him because, as with little Johnny, as it happens he doesn’t fit the stereotype? Or 
  3. 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

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4 replies

  1. You omitted Sense 4): It has been declared illegal and therefore “wrong” to use the stereotype in hiring or providing service to the public, trumping Senses 1) – 3).

    The only reason you can’t apply the useful (because strongly predictive) stereotype is that provincial human rights codes say you can’t. Their passage was brought about by advocates who didn’t want to be discriminated against. Period. Good or bad reason, irrelevant. By motivated reasoning or as propaganda, they claim that the stereotypes aren’t true and survive only because of racist thinking; therefore you ought not to believe them or use them in hiring. But we know they are really true. The advocates know we know. They just don’t care.
    They compel us against using them. And, taking a leaf from the lawbook, the rest of society piles on. As you finish with.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In the case of hiring for a job or project where does the hiring party’s obligation rest? In the sense that a stereotype being potentially, and frequently accurate (mind you usually at a diminished intensity from the stereotype itself) may guide them to hire based against the need for the success of the project. Or is it to the fellow human seeking employment that the hiring party in a position of power should apply humanity over the project success by hiring no matter the stereotype?
    Obviously it is not a black and white scenario. Hence the use of a CV, references, and sheer “dice rolling” when hiring.
    In a labour shortage one may not weigh the stereotypes as heavily as when applicants are plenty.
    A challenge to the hiring party is similar to a judicial system. A) What is the chance that this person will fill a stereotype? B) What damage can be done to the organization or project/job if the stereotype turns out to be accurate, and C) What gains are to be had if one is hired despite the stereotype potentially coming true.
    Unfortunately the burden is on the applicant and their ability to disprove or “sell” the fact that they are an exception to the stereotype.
    That is of course when looking at a stereotype as negative.
    Hiring an Asian under the assumption that they may be more savvy with maths is an example of when stereotypes suggest a higher degree of competency rather than a lesser degree. The applicant will not be actively marketing how poor they are at maths in this case (I would imagine).
    All that said and now rounding back to the original question; where does the hiring party’s obligation rest?
    My opinion is the hiring party is obligated to the entity they represent. They are providing a service, usually for money in which an organization or employer is expecting them to represent that employer’s interests (job, project, operation etc.). For that party to not consider stereotypes would be negligent when representing their employee in the duty of hiring or really human resources in general.

    Controversial? Perhaps. Capitalist, very likely. Efficient; usually.

    Frame it in socially sensitive scenarios and it becomes easier to answer such as:
    Hiring a minister for a Baptist church may lead to stereotyping to avoid the fact that a Hell’s Angel has applied. This of course despite the fact that they may very well be a Baptist, qualified, or otherwise a good fit.
    Perhaps a less ridiculous example would be hiring female social workers for a women’s shelter as an equally qualified man stereotypically will not make women at the women’s shelter feel safe or comfortable. Preferential hiring will apply no matter the qualification or disposition of the individual as there is a stereotype that men do not understand women in the same way women understand each other. Never mind the scenario where that man may have a great and empathetic disposition with the women there and actually be a great fit. Definitely a more grey and “gentle” version of stereotyping and perhaps the more common type of stereotyping?


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