Friday, January 13, 2006

Affirmative action, ICS, and virtue

I just realized that implicit cognitive science, referenced below, has a strangely extreme Aristotelian bent.

Classic virtue theory says that the good man does the right thing for the right reason--not just because someone is watching, or it'll get him money, but just because it's the right thing, and the virtuous man does the right thing naturally. If someone does the right thing but has to struggle to do it, or does it merely instrumentally, he is "continent," and may be somewhat morally praiseworthy, but is not truly virtuous. A person who struggles to do the right thing, but frequently fails, is "incontinent." Someone who is so far gone he doesn't even struggle anymore--he knows what's right but doesn't care--is vicious. The division is: virtuous, continent, incontinent, vicious.

ICS and the article below effectively collapse these categories into (a) "virtuous" and (b) everything else. Unless you have internalized the good, and do it truly naturally and for the right reasons, ICS will detect bias. Most importantly, ICS fails to distinguish between the continent and incontinent. Many people might have a slight aversion to some disadvantaged group, but struggle mightily to treat them fairly; those who succeed deserve some moral praise, more than those who try but fail.

Aristotle is often criticized for reserving the highest level of praise for those who do the right thing naturally. ICS and the way it is commonly discussed go even farther, and only grant moral praise to the virtuous.


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