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19: NOV 2. Unit Four: Justice and Justified Partiality


Hidden Brain, "Playing Favorites: When kindness toward some means callousness toward others"

Introduction to Justified Partiality Unit

  • A typical question for thinking about social justice is,
  • "What do I owe strangers?". You can think of our approach in this unit as an indirect way of addressing that question by asking, first:
  • "What are the limits (if any) of partiality to family, intimates, friends?' (Your preference network)
  • Today's class is focused on "personal partiality," the kind that shows up in our interpersonal social relationships. The next class will focus on "impersonal altruism", which shows up in our commitments, if any, to benefit strangers, especially strangers in our society, but in some cases, globally.
  • Three big questions:
  • 1. What are some the social functions of personal preferential treatment? (Draw in material from podcast)
  • 2. Could our networks of preferential treatment be the effect of and also promote injustice?
  • 3. What principles or considerations might lead you to direct some resources (time, money, in-kind aid) outside your preference network? (We need additional resources for Question #3)

Hidden Brain, "Playing Favorites"

  • Intro
  • Expectations for unique attention from one's beloved. We'd rather an inferior unique message than a message shared with others. We want partiality. (Think about cases in which someone shows you a simple preference -- offering to pay for coffee, give you a ride somewhere, just showing you attention. It's wonderful!)
  • How does partiality fit with a desire for justice as equal treatment?
  • Segment 1: Carla's Story
  • Discrimination research: IAT - Implicit Association Test - Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard) one of the researchers on IAT.
  • Mahzarin Banaji and Professor Carla Kaplan (Yale English). Also a quilter. Friends in the 80s, being among the few women at Yale. Story of injury to Carla. She gets preferential treatment because she is a professor, rather than because she was a quilter.
  • Is it discrimination if you are given a preference? [Imagine a system of preferences given to those we know. Could such a system support systemic injustice?] Someone decides to show you "special kindness" -- above and beyond the ordinary. Language of discrimination based on "commission". But what about omission? Hard to know if you didn't get preferential treatment. Yikes! Carla got to see both what it was like to be treated same and different.
  • Most injustices of "omission" are invisible.
  • Story by Mahzarin about interview from former student journalist from magazine the professor didn't respect. Suddenly, the in-group information about being a Yaley was enough to trigger a preference. Preference networks in Ivy leagues schools. But also Gonzaga!!! We actively cultivate a preferential network for you! Because we care about you!
  • "Helping those with whom you have a group identity" is a form of modern discrimination, acc to Mahzarin.
  • Interesting feature of favoritism -- You often don't find out that you didn't get preferential treatment
  • Favoritism doesn't get as much attention as discrimination.
  • Can you avoid favoritism?
  • Could be based on "green beard effect" same school, etc.
  • Segment 2: Dillon the Altruist
  • What would it be like to try to overcome favoritism.
  • Story of Dillon Matthews. Tries to avoid favoritism. Singer's argument about helping others in need. Thought experiment: Saving a child from a pond ruins your suit. Utilitarian altruism. Singer's Principle: If you can do good without giving up something of equal moral significance, you should do it.
  • "Give Well" - documented charity work. (One of many sources that can assure you that your money did something good. Other examples: Jimmy Carter's mission, Gates' missions. If you had contributed to such a cause, you would have been effective.)
  • Effective altruism movement. The most good you can do. Evidence based altruism. Hannah. Focused on family, friends, your neighborhood, city. Parental lesson. Dinner together. Debating moral philosophy on a first date! Wow! It doesn't get any better than that.
  • Utilitarian logic. Equal happiness principle. Dillon not focused on preference to people near him, but on effectiveness of altruism. (Feel the rationality, and maybe the unnaturalness of this.)
  • Dillon donates a kidney to a stranger. Hmm. Not giving his kidney felt like hoarding something. Hannah felt her beloved was taking an unnecessary risk. "Being a stranger" made a difference to her.
  • The Trolley Problem again, this time from Joshua Greene himself!! Watch "The Good Place".
  • What if the person you had to sacrifice was someone you loved, your child. Dillon might do it. Dillion would do it. "They are all the heroes of their own stories..." Dillon would sacrifice Hannah. Hannah might sacrifice Dillion just know that's what he would want that, but no. She wouldn't.
  • Greene: She recognizes that what he would do is rational. He's willing to override it, but might not be able to live with himself for doing that.
  • Segment 3: Neurobiology of Preference
  • Naturalness of preference. Evolutionary background
  • Preference promotes cooperation. Suite of capacities. A package. Don't lie, cheat, steal...
  • All about cooperation (Greene): Kin cooperation....Cooperation among friends... reciprocity...semi-strangers (same religion. friend of kin. friend of friend of kin. Friends! (Green beard effects))
  • Moral concentric circles. How big is my "Us"? What is the range of humans I care about?
  • Greene's analogy of automatic and manual camera modes. (Two systems. Automatic and Deliberate.) Difficult decisions might require manual mode.
  • Manual mode: dlPFC (activated in utilitarian thought) (high cog load). Automatic -- amygdala. Snakes in the grass. Thank your amygdala. Point: We need both systems. We need lying, cheating, and stealing to be pretty automatic NOs!
  • List: Easy calls: sharing concert tickets with a friend. Buying dinner for an intimate partner. Giving a more valuable gift to one person than another. Harder: Figuring out whether to donate money to help people far away. How much?
  • Crying baby scenario. Inevitable outcomes seem to matter here. Brain wrestles, as in experience. vmPFC (evaluates/weighs)
  • Lack of Tribal identity might tilt us toward rule based ethics. Equal treatment. Automatic systems not designed for a world that could help strangers 10,000 miles away.
  • Loyalty cases: men placing loyalty to men above other virtues. Assumptions about family relationship. Do families sometime impose on your loyalty (can be disfunctional)? The "worth being loyal to" part is sometimes unexamined. (recall the passenger dilemma)
  • Back to Dillon: Acknowledges limits. Liver story. Bits of liver. It grows back. Partners not so much.
  • Closing point by Joshua Greene. If you ran into a burning building and saved someone, it would be a highpoint of your life. Why not consider the same outcome heroic even if it doesn't involve a burning building?

Question #3: Finding principles and resources for developing a position on "Justified Partiality"

  • Let's define a couple of viewpoints to get started. Note that these views draw on both our study of morality as an evolved system as well as our philosophical theories:
  • Tribalism - The view that there are no limits to partiality to our social network. Just as no one has a right to my friendship, no one has a moral complaint against me if I spend all of my resources on my partiality network. The tribalist might point the importance and naturalness of having a kin and friendship social network. Helping people outside this network might still be justified by self-interest. A libertarian might arrive at a similar practical position, though from a focus on individual liberty and "self-ownership".
  • "Post-Tribal Urbanism" - Values sustaining large scale societies, supporting market exchanges (with strangers) require building social trust, impersonal honesty, and impersonal altruism. Add a "Rawlsian twist" for refreshing additional theory!
  • Utilitarian Globalism - Following the equal happiness principle, the view that we ought to constrain our natural tendency to favor our own. In principle, saving a life 12,000 miles from here is the same as saving a life in your community. So, if you can save two lives....etc.
  • Extreme Altruism - Live simply (maybe combine this with beliefs about avoiding consumerism). Maximize giving. Don't leave any organs un-recycled. A bit of liver can go a long way!

Small Group Discussion: How Big is Your "Us"?

  • Imagine three futures for yourself. In all of them, you grow up to have a successful career, a family with two kids, and a medium size extended family. You are approaching retirement and your retirement and estate planning recalls a distant memory of an ethics class which talked about "justified partiality." You and your partner are wondering if you should leave all of your estate to your children or not. Consider these three scenarios:
  • A. You and your partner retire with about 1 million dollars, a paid off house, and good health insurance.
  • B. You have all of the conditions in A, but 2 million dollars in net worth.
  • C. Same as B, but 8 million dollars.
  • For all three scenarios, assume that all indications suggest continued growth of your assets. You are also "aging well"!
  • In each scenario, how much, if any, of your estate would you will to people or causes that do not benefit people in your preference network? After your discussion, please fill out this google form.