Responsibility for implicit bias

Philosophy Compass 12 (3) (2017)
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Research programs in empirical psychology from the past two decades have revealed implicit biases. Although implicit processes are pervasive, unavoidable, and often useful aspects of our cognitions, they may also lead us into error. The most problematic forms of implicit cognition are those which target social groups, encoding stereotypes or reflecting prejudicial evaluative hierarchies. Despite intentions to the contrary, implicit biases can influence our behaviours and judgements, contributing to patterns of discriminatory behaviour. These patterns of discrimination are obviously wrong and unjust. But in remedying such wrongs, one question to be addressed concerns responsibility for implicit bias. Unlike some paradigmatic forms of wrongdoing, such discrimination is often unintentional, unendorsed, and perpetrated without awareness; and the harms are particularly damaging because they are cumulative and collectively perpetrated. So, what are we to make of questions of responsibility? In this article, we outline some of the main lines of recent philosophical thought, which address questions of responsibility for implicit bias. We focus on (a) the kind of responsibility at issue; (b) revisionist versus nonrevisionist conceptions of responsibility as applied to implicit bias; and (c) individual, institutional, and collective responsibility for implicit bias.
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