Dissertation, University of Southern California (2018)
You shouldn’t have done it. But you did. Against your better judgment you scrolled to the end of an article concerning the state of race relations in America and you are now reading the comments. Amongst the slurs, the get-rich-quick schemes, and the threats of physical violence, there is one comment that catches your eye. Spencer argues that although it might be “unpopular” or “politically incorrect” to say this, the evidence supports believing that the black diner in his section will tip poorly. He insists that the facts don’t lie. The facts aren’t racist. In denying his claim and in believing otherwise, it is you who engages in wishful thinking. It is you who believes against the evidence. You, not Spencer, are epistemically irrational.
My dissertation gives an account of the moral-epistemic norms governing belief that will help us answer Spencer and the challenge he poses. We live in a society that has been shaped by racist attitudes and institutions. Given the effects of structural racism, Spencer’s belief could have considerable evidential support. Spencer notes that it might make him unpopular, but he cares about the truth and he is willing to believe the unpopular thing. But, Spencer’s belief seems racist. Spencer asks, however, how could his belief be racist if his beliefs reflect reality and are rationally justified? Moreover, how could he wrong anyone by believing what he epistemically ought to believe given the evidence? In answer, I argue that beliefs can wrong.