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Racist Beliefs as Objectively False Value Judgments. Sharyn Clough (Philosophy, OSU ) Bill Loges (Sociology/New Media, OSU) Oregon State University October 21st, 2006. We Argue. Racist beliefs express strong negative value judgments that are false, and objectively so.

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racist beliefs as objectively false value judgments

Racist Beliefs as Objectively False Value Judgments

Sharyn Clough (Philosophy, OSU )

Bill Loges (Sociology/New Media, OSU)

Oregon State University

October 21st, 2006

we argue
We Argue
  • Racist beliefs express strong negative value judgments that are false, and objectively so.
  • Racist beliefs have empirical or cognitive content, or are sufficiently semantically linked to beliefs that do. (They would have no meaning otherwise).
  • That content or links to the content is mistaken or invalid.
  • The falsity of racist beliefs holds independently of the will of the holder of the belief.
  • The falsity of racist beliefs is, in principle, available to rational adjudication.
Such rational assessment is not always practiced, of course.
  • But, insofar as this sort of assessment is, in principal, available in the case of more straightforwardly descriptive judgments, so too it is, in principle, available in the case of value judgments.
  • Value judgments, like descriptive judgments, are arrived at and can be adjusted in the face of experiences or other sorts of empirical evidence, broadly construed.
  • Any rational assessment regarding the objective truth or falsity of a value judgment is fallible, just as in the case of descriptive judgments.
We are all familiar with the process of adjusting our value judgments in light of new evidence.

As Liz Anderson reminds us, this process is called “growing up.”

does racism involve the holding of beliefs
Does racism involve the holding of beliefs?
  • Jorge Garcia:
    • Racism is best conceived of as “fundamentally a vicious kind of racially based disregard for the welfare of certain people.”
    • Racism “essentially involves not our beliefs and their rationality or irrationality, but our wants, intentions, likes, or dislikes and their distance from the moral virtues.”
  • Bill says: Are our wants, intentions, likes and dislikes not beliefs? If not, what are they? (We’ll get to the moral virtues later.)
the problem with garcia s view
The Problem With Garcia’s View
  • It’s hard to see how, on Garcia’s view, racism can be amenable to rational persuasion, which the sociological literature shows it can.
  • It’s also not clear how racist claims come to be meaningful unless on some occasions, at least, they have some relation to semantic, propositional content, expressed as beliefs.
must racist beliefs be cognitive
Must Racist Beliefs be “Cognitive”?
  • Racism can be expressed in beliefs, but do those beliefs always have to be empirically descriptive, or “cognitive”?
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah:
    • Racialist beliefs involve descriptive or empirical judgments that may or may not be false.
    • Extrinsically racist beliefs add to the empirical judgment a negative moral evaluation.
    • Intrinsically racist beliefs, in contrast, are marked primarily by moral failures, unrelated to any particular descriptive or empirical failure.
descriptive and value judgments
Descriptive and Value Judgments
  • Splits between descriptive and value judgments are problematic when descriptive judgments are viewed, by definition, as free of moral content, and value judgments are viewed, by definition, as free of descriptive content.
  • A further problem results when the split is thought to hinge on the claim that, unlike descriptive judgments, value judgments are noncognitive and unavailable to rational adjudication.
There is a conceptual overlap between descriptive judgments and value judgments as expressed in racist beliefs.
  • There are moral elements underlying descriptive judgments about, for example, the biological distinctiveness of African Americans.
  • In the face of the overwhelming data showing that social factors rather than genetic or other biological factors better explain the existence and maintenance of folk-racial categories…
  • … the continued support of “racialist” studies focused genetic or other biological factors begins to seem less morally innocuous than Appiah’s account would allow.

When we criticize certain research projects as racist, we are saying that those projects are inadequate, relative to our experience of the relationship between biology, genetics and folk-racial categories.

  • There are descriptive features underlying moral judgments.
  • Appiah:
    • Intrinsic racists exhibit moral failures unrelated to any particular empirical failures concerning descriptions of the way the world is.
    • They just don’t like African Americans.
the intrinsic racist a closer look
The Intrinsic Racist: A Closer Look
  • For the intrinsic racist to have morally significant preferences for certain people, as grouped by folk-racial categories, then some empirical project is at work.
  • The intrinsic racist needs to be able to empirically discriminate between groups, and then to identify the feature she claims is shared by the group members to which she attaches her moral preferences.
  • Given the homogeneity of the human family, membership in any given folk-racial category is going to tell you little or nothing about what particular traits (moral or otherwise) an individual has.
This shows that the moral culpability of extrinsic and intrinsic forms of racism is presupposed by empirical, descriptive errors.

Let’s say we’re right that racist beliefs have cognitive, empirical content. Still, racist value judgments aren’t out there in the world for us to identify objectively, they’re subjective features of individuals. Now what?

the question of location
The Question of Location
  • We don’t think questions of the “location” of values (out there, in here) get to the question of the objectivity of values.
  • Unless we are operating with some lingering mind/body dualism, we shouldn’t make much epistemological hay about the difference between beliefs formed “out there” and “in here.”
  • We’re not saying there’s no difference between those sorts of beliefs, just not a difference that affects our ability to objectively examine their truth.
other claims to consider
Other Claims to Consider:
  • Compare the case of making objective claims regarding other sorts of properties, such as weights or colours.
  • There is a fact of the matter about whether something weighs 5 kg rather than 10; or is green rather than red.
  • We can make objective evaluations about properties such as color even though we wouldn’t want to say that greeness is out there in the world, in the same way that rocks, say, are out there in the world.
  • Learning the correct application of the color predicate “blue” or the value predicate “racist” requires the same sort of empirical examination that is required when we identify something as being a certain species, or a certain molecule.
  • There is an objective, though contingent, fact of the matter about whether something can be identified as “blue,” as “racist,” as “Drosophila,” or as “water.”
  • Note that just because these predicates share these features does not mean that we would all agree on the criteria to use for applying the predicates, or that the identification process is going to be straightforward.
  • Grass is green.
  • The targeting of African American drivers by state highway patrol officers is racist.
  • Individual organisms belong to the same species just in case they can interbreed.
  • Water is the molecule H2O.
objectivity and agreement
Objectivity and Agreement
  • Lack of agreement about how to apply a particular predicate is separate from the question whether that predicate expresses an empirical, descriptive fact of the matter.
  • Just as we would agree that there is a fact of the matter about whether something is green or blue, a member of the same species or not, there is also a fact about whether some belief or action or person is racist.
  • We can objectively evaluate whether these predicates are being applied correctly, even if the level of agreement about application criteria varies from case to case.
values in social psychology

Values in Social Psychology

“Different Rays of Sunshine”

rokeach s belief system theory

Rokeach’s Belief System Theory

“A value is an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence. A value system is an enduring organization of [values] along a continuum of relative importance” (Rokeach, 1973, p. 5).

end states of existence terminal values
End States of Existence: Terminal Values
  • Desirable outcomes toward which we orient action
  • Means of “evaluating” our present status
    • Morality: Are these goals good?
    • Competence: Are these goals praiseworthy?
  • Prioritized personally and socially
    • No necessary correspondence (e.g., salvation)
    • Calls for balance and compromise among values (e.g., freedom and security)
modes of conduct instrumental values
Modes of Conduct: Instrumental Values
  • Desirable ways of behaving as we strive toward our goals
  • Means of evaluating our available courses of action
    • Morality: Is this behavior good?
    • Competence: Is this behavior praiseworthy?
  • Also prioritized personally and socially
    • No necessary correspondence (e.g., clean)
    • More balance and compromise (e.g., honest and polite)
values and race
Values and Race
  • Decline of equality in U.S. terminal value priorities
    • 1971: ranked 4th of 18
    • 1981: ranked 12 of same 18
  • Change in value implications of racist beliefs
    • “Old” racism not defensible (at best, it’s impolite)
    • “Modern racism” defended
      • Fairness (e.g., anti-affirmative action suits)
      • National security (e.g., Pat Buchanan)
      • Honesty (e.g., Michael Smerconish)
values race and self confrontation
Values, Race, and Self-Confrontation
  • Racist beliefs are wrong (i.e., incorrect) when they contradict one’s values
  • Racist beliefs are wrong when they contradict one’s value priorities (e.g., Would you rather be honest than intelligent?)
  • Research shows that when people confront such contradictions, they adjust other beliefs to suit their values, not vice versa.
  • Human values are objective beliefs that provide a basis for rational deliberation
    • Persuasion on this basis is possible
    • Appeals to common humanity are possible
  • Failing to include values in the realm of rational beliefs
    • Privileges value-based claims unduly
    • Provides a safe harbor for irrational racist beliefs
  • The cognitive failure of racist beliefs is not restricted to specific wrong descriptors ascribed to folk-racial categories; it includes the correspondence of those beliefs with one’s values.