The social life of prejudice

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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A ‘vestigial social practice' is a norm, convention, or social behavior that persists even when few endorse it or its original justifying rationale. Begby (2021) explores social explanations for the persistence of prejudice, arguing that even if we all privately disavow a stereotype, we might nevertheless continue acting as if it is true because we believe that others expect us to. Meanwhile the persistence of the practice provides something like implicit testimonial evidence for the prejudice that would justify it, making it rational for members of the next generation to acquire the corresponding prejudiced beliefs. This paper distinguishes between three different types of vestigial social practice in terms of the underlying explanatory mechanisms, and argues that the persistence of prejudicial social stereotypes is most tightly linked not to others’ beliefs or expectations, but to the ways that material infrastructure constrains options shapes social outcomes. Given that, the persistence of a practice only provides grounds to infer that most people endorse the corresponding prejudiced belief only if we are in a position to dismiss relevant alternative explanations.

Author's Profile

Renee Jorgensen
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


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