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Implicit Biases, Moral Agency, and Moral Responsibility

3.24.16Humanities Forum
Angela Smith, Roger Mudd Professor of Ethics and Professor of Philosophy, Washington and Lee University
Evelyn Barker Memorial Lecture
Thursday, March 24, 4 p.m.
Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery

Is it appropriate to regard individuals as responsible, and perhaps also blameworthy, for (the existence, operation, or influence of) implicit biases of which they are not consciously aware? Angela Smith says that it is. She argues that many of the attitudes we refer to via the label “implicit biases,” while not under our conscious awareness or control, still involve exercises of evaluative agency that we can appropriately be asked to justify. For this reason, they are attitudes for which we are morally responsible. Dr. Smith argues further that, because these implicit biases typically involve unexcused violations of moral norms to which we are legitimately subject, we are also morally blameworthy for them. However, given that these biases operate below the level of reflective awareness, she suggests that we are generally less blameworthy for implicit biases than for explicit biases.

Dr. Angela Smith joined the Department of Philosophy at Washington and Lee University in 2009 after teaching for ten years at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2013 she was appointed to be the first Roger Mudd Professor of Ethics and the first Director of the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics. She teaches a variety of courses in moral and political philosophy as well as ancient philosophy. Dr. Smith’s research interests concern the connections between morality, moral agency, and moral responsibility. She has published a number of articles exploring whether, and if so in what way, we are morally responsible for our attitudes – for our desires, emotions, beliefs, and other intentional mental states. More recently, she has written articles on the moral importance of specific attitudes such as blame and tolerance, and she has argued for the existence of robust attitudinal obligations to others.

This event is free and open to the public.

Sponsored by the Philosophy Department, the Dresher Center for the Humanities, and the Psychology Department.

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