Revisiting Hursthouse on the Repentant Racist (2 of 2)

In my last (recent) post on this topic, I argued that it seems absurd to blame people, or pass moral judgments of any kind on them, for what they experience in dreams. It follows that it’s absurd to blame, judge, or morally assess someone for having racist dreams, or generally, vicious dreams. But, I suggested, certain sorts of passing, stream-of-consciousness thoughts seem to bear a closer similarity to dream states than they do to conscious convictions. If so, thoughts of this variety are not a proper subject of moral assessment either, or at least less so, in proportion to their similarity to the relevant features of dreams.

One implication of this claim is that a person who encounters a lot of racist noise in his head, even racist noise voiced in the first person, is not necessarily a racist himself, and not to be judged a racist simply on that evidence–a claim that contradicts not just Hursthouse’s view, but one held by other moral philosophers. A second implication is that insofar as implicit bias/association tests function to detect a propensity to give voice to involuntary, osmotic mental noise, we have (yet another) plausible  explanation for their invalidity and unreliability, and should consider dramatically ratcheting back the use we make of them. Continue reading

Hursthouse on the Repentant Racist: Error, Evil, and Moral Luck

Some of you may have seen this material before, but I don’t think I’ve ever posted it at PoT, so I’m exhuming it in the interest of getting some comments on it, as I’d like to work on the paper a bit this summer, and am hoping to trundle it about at conferences this fall. (Apologies if I’m breaking blind with that claim, but this is the age of the Internet.) I’m particularly interested in getting comments and/or bibliographical suggestions on some of the empirical issues implicitly raised by the paper.

David Potts recently cited Martin Seligman’s claims in Authentic Happiness to the effect that childhood experiences count for little as regards adult experience. I haven’t fully digested Seligman’s claims (and references), but I don’t think that he had childhood upbringing in mind when he wrote Authentic Happiness. At any rate, I’m interested in empirical answers to questions like the following:

  1. What are the longitudinal effects of a racist upbringing? How powerful are they? How amenable to control or reversal? And in what form? Naturally, the longitudinal effects of racist upbringing are a function of the effects of upbringing, so I’m interested in the more general phenomenon, as well.
  2. What is the role of trauma in the production of racial identity in racists? Does trauma explain the production of racial identity? If so, what is the mechanism?
  3. What does racism (or “racism”) look like in small children? I’ve put “racism” in scare quotes because arguably children with racist upbringings may lack the cognitive sophistication to do anything but act as though they believed in the truth of racism. But behavioral racism without cognitive understanding does not strike me as genuine racism. A child who imitates racists is not herself a racist (at least not necessarily).

Continue reading