International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

twitter 2015
     facebook 2015


MONDAY, JULY 6  /  15:30 - 17:00  /  DS-R525
Organized session / standard talks
Ethical dimensions of philosophy of race

Adam Hochman (Macquarie University, Australia); Jon Røyne Kyllingstad (Norsk Teknisk Museum, Norway)

In this session we explore some of the ethical dimensions of philosophy of race, with a focus on the contemporary biologically and psychologically informed literatures. First, what role should moral and political considerations play in racial ontology? Should we understand the reality of race as primarily a normative issue? Can normative considerations be part of the metaphysics of race? Second, what is the relationship between morally loaded biological racial realism and mere “misreadings” of the biological evidence surrounding human population structure? Are those people misusing the science to support racial classifications (in for example ways that seem racist) morally culpable even if they are sincere in their misreading of the evidence? Under what conditions is it reasonable to consider the possibility that some misreadings of the contemporary evidence might not be innocent? Finally, in what sense can we hold those people who hold implicit (unconscious) biases against racialized groups morally responsible for those biases, and/or for the actions which arise out of them? What strategies might be deployed to minimize the effects of these biases?

In defence of the metaphysics of race

Adam Hochman (Macquarie University, Australia)

Philosophers have been increasingly active in the debate about the reality of race since it heated up in the new millennium. Some argue against the reality of biological race. Some argue that race is biologically real. A few – and it is with these scholars that this talk is concerned – have defended a deflationist position which would subvert the debate about the reality of race. These deflationists are against metaphysical approaches to the debate. While the anti-metaphysicians do not all agree on what the metaphysics of race actually entails, they do agree that the ontological status of race should be determined on normative, rather than metaphysical, grounds. In this talk I argue that we should understand the metaphysics of race as being concerned, quite simply, with the following question: “what is race, and is race real?” On this understanding of the metaphysics of race one can include normative, semantic, and pragmatic considerations when answering the above question, but still be doing the metaphysics of race. Yet the issue remains, “how should we answer our metaphysical question?” The anti-metaphysicians argue that it should be answered on pragmatic and normative grounds, and that the answer(s) should be context specific (we might want to say that race is real in contexts where race is socially or biomedically useful, for instance). I will argue, on pragmatic grounds, that this line of argument ought to be run alongside arguments in which the normative commitments of authors play a less explicit role.

Human races, biological realism, and “slippage”

Jonathan Kaplan (Oregon State University, United States)

There are at least two distinct elements to answering questions about the biological reality of human races: first, what is required for “races” to be biologically real entities, and second, what the biological facts can support. Put this way, the project might seem straightforward: propose a defensible definition of “race” in humans, and see whether the biological facts support or speak against that definition being instantiated in the world. But things are not so simple. There is often a kind of “slippage” – a weak definition of race will be proposed in order to show that biological facts can support it, and then a stronger definition “snuck in.” In such cases, what seems to be driving the process is the desire for easy shortcuts to social/political or moral conclusions. Race naturalists who affirm a weak version of racial realism, but then slip into a strong version, may be helping themselves to what would otherwise seem like obviously racist positions without explicitly defending them. Keeping clear about what, precisely, one means by the claim that human “races” are (or are not) biologically real is one way to counter this kind of slippage.

Agential technologies and implicitly biased behaviors

Natalia Washington (Purdue University, United States)

In this paper I discuss the moral significance of our increasing empirical knowledge about implicit racial biases, asking how we as agents can use these gains to actively shape our own moral ecology I aim to defend two claims: first, that people can be responsible for actions that are influenced by biases they do not know they have and that they would disavow if they were made aware of, and second, that the kind of agency involved in taking responsibility for bias is best conceived from an externalist perspective. My defense of these claims will involve framing the issue in terms of kinds of control-based and knowledge-based exculpating conditions commonly taken to excuse actions, laying out the core features of implicit biases, and considering whether anything about the character or operation of implicit biases themselves satisfies those conditions, or guarantees that actions influenced by them should be excused. Finally I comment on how bias is addressed by individuals in institutional contexts such as policing, hospitals, and schools.