April 29, 2016

Reverse discrimination and employment

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, April 28, 2016

Reverse discrimination and employment

Let's think discriminately about discrimination (yes, you read that right). I'll distinguish two senses of discrimination, then I'll raise seven questions about reverse discrimination.

Discrimination 1: to discern/differentiate between things; show a partiality/preference to specific things/people for some (usually) good reason. We discriminate between foods, wines, friends, potential wife or husband.

Such discrimination is typically not problematic.

But discrimination 2 is problematic: it happens when we differentiate between people unjustly.

Discrimination 2 occurs when, say, we don't hire a qualified black man simply because he is black. Ditto for women, aboriginals, ethnicities, etc.

Philosopher Louis Pojman clarifies: “Discrimination [sense 1] is essentially a good quality, having reference to our ability to make distinctions. As rational and moral agents we need to make proper distinctions. To be rational is to discriminate between good and bad arguments, and to think morally is to discriminate between reasons based on valid principles and those based on invalid ones. What needs to be distinguished is the difference between rational and moral discrimination [discrimination 1], on the one hand, and irrational and immoral discrimination [discrimination 2], on the other hand.

Enter reverse discrimination (a.k.a. “strong affirmative action”; henceforth RD).

RD attempts to resolve past injustices by implementing employment practices that favour individuals belonging to groups unjustly discriminated against in the past.

Typically, RD involves hard quota hiring (percentages of women, natives, ethnicities, etc., in the work force must reflect the diversity of the larger population) or raising standards for privileged groups and/or lowering standards for (what I'll call, with no disrespect intended) “official victim groups” (OVGs).

Now the seven questions.

1. If sexist, racist, etc. discrimination is wrong, is RD wrong too?

RD discriminates (allegedly in sense 1), albeit against a different, previously privileged group. But isn't RD unjust when it now denies specific people opportunities for reasons—race, sex, etc.—that have nothing to do with their personal actions or abilities? And when not every member of the previously privileged group is privileged? And when not every OVG member suffered unjust discrimination?

2. If our goal is a less race (etc.) conscious society in which people are judged on their individual merits, is RD counter-productive?

By denying people opportunities for reasons (sex, race, etc.) that have nothing to do with ability, does RD reinforce group consciousness and stereotypes?

Moreover, does RD increase social tension and group polarization? I suspect that some non-OVG members resent OVGs, some RD beneficiaries are stigmatized, and some RD beneficiaries feel inferior because they aren't hired for their merit.

4. Does RD encourage mediocrity? If standards of merit are lowered to allow underrepresented members to have a better chance at getting the job, does overall excellence suffer?

5. Does RD perpetuate victimhood? Does RD encourage OVGs to advance themselves by exploiting victim status via political remedy rather than by taking individual responsibility?

6. Does the creation of OVGs inadvertently create new OVGs? Are today's young white males being unjustly discriminated against because of the sins of (much) older white males?

7. Is RD off-target? Wouldn't it be wise to focus on strengthening family life and early education to ensure that all persons have a fair and equal opportunity to obtain credentials necessary to fare well in the job market?

Instead, RD focuses on society's higher levels of education and employment where job competency and merit are crucial for society to function well. Is this detrimental to social and economic health?
Of course, past injustices should not be ignored: e.g., Canadian Japanese in Canadian concentration camps, native land claims, residential schools.

But perhaps solutions lie in compensating, where possible, those particular individuals who were unjustly treated, not groups?

We live in an imperfect world, and maybe some problems can't be solved. Should there be a statute of limitations for injustices done in the past?

God commands us to care for the poor and seek justice. This requires wisdom. Wisdom sometimes requires asking uncomfortable questions.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

April 13, 2016

Careful thinking

Stefonknee Wolscht: 52-year-old father of 7, now a 6-year-old girl with "parents"
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, April 14, 2016

Careful thinking

Please think carefully about the following three theses.

1. “Your beliefs don't make you a better person, your behavior does.”

For this thesis to make moral sense depends on what one believes “a better person” is. It also depends on what one believes is behaviour that is good or what a better person ought to do.

Ted Bundy (rapist and murderer of 20+ women) believed that “a better person” is one who is daring and willing to rape and murder.

In other words, ideas have consequences, so the idea, i.e., what is believed, matters.

As philosopher David Horner points out, “what we believe will determine how we behave, and ultimately who we become.”

Of course, beliefs not acted upon don't amount to much. To paraphrase the Apostle James: belief without behaviour is dead.

But we should also add the whole counsel of Scripture (and reason): behaviour without belief is blind.

My point: To ensure that our behaviour amounts to something truly good also requires accurate beliefs about what is truly good. (So orthopraxis/ right behaviour implicitly presupposes right belief that orthopraxis is truly good.)

2. “It matters not who you love or how you love, it matters only that you love.”

Yes, this seems loving.

But pause and think: “I love you,” said the married businessman to his good-looking female secretary, as the businessman abandons his young children along with his wife who is dying of cancer.

“I love you,” said the cannibal to his dinner; “I love you,” said the pedophile to the child; “I love you,” said the sadist to his torture victims.

Clearly, we must define “love.” Love has a moral structure and truth content.

Jesus, who Christians believe is God come to Earth as a human being, taught that love is of utmost importance, and He modeled love for us. Significantly, Jesus also taught that He didn't abolish the truth of the moral law—in fact, He intensified it. (Yes, Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, but He also told her to leave her life of sin.)

3. “What I feel is who I am.”

A presently popular idea is that personal identity—i.e., what I am—is wholly a personal matter, a matter merely of subjective feeling/ intuition.

Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner basically holds this view. He feels he is a woman so he is a woman—and so he has had plastic surgery to “feminize his face and throat, has had hormone therapy for growth of breasts, and may undergo surgery to remove his testicles plus use (mutilate) his penis to construct a “vagina.

But if my feelings about myself and my identity are trump, what follows?

It means that we must not only accept Jenner's view to be true, but also the claims of “otherkin.

Otherkin are people who self-identify as—i.e., who feel they actually are, at least in part or wholly—non-human. A young Norwegian woman recently made headlines because she feels she is (and lives as if she is) a cat. Others feel they are foxes, dragons, etc.

If feelings about self and identity are trump, we should also accept the claims of the “transabled.

Transabled are people who feel that they are impostors if their body is in full working order, so they seek to amputate a limb or otherwise mutilate or disable themselves.

A young American woman felt she would be whole if she were blind, so, with help from a sympathetic psychologist, blinded herself with drain cleaner.

But, surely, the truth is that you are not in fact an impostor if your body is in full working order.

Also, there is a case of a 52-year-old Canadian man who feels he is a 6-year-old girl—i.e., he feels he is transgendered and transaged.

Clearly, the view that feelings about identity are trump lands us in obvious absurdities and falsehoods.

Overall lessons: Love is important. So is truth. So is careful thinking.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

For additional thought:

I have noticed time and again that many intelligent people don't understand the nature of the logic that appears in the third portion of my above article (and in several of my other columns).  The logic being used in the third portion of my article is called reductio ad absurdum. In a reductio ad absurdum argument, we assume, temporarily for the sake of argument, that the view under investigation is true (in the present case, we assume the truth of "what I feel is who I am," i.e., that personal identity—what I am—is wholly a personal matter, a matter wholly of subjective feeling/ intuition, i.e., my feelings about myself and my identity are trump). We approach the view in question with the attitude, "Okay, let's say it's true. What follows logically?" If the logical consequences of the view's assumed truth are false or logically contradictory, then it follows that the view under investigation is false or at least deeply problematic. (Because valid deductive argument disallows the possibility of true premises and a false conclusion, the known falsity of the conclusion/ consequences gotten by valid deductive argument means that we also know the premise/ view can't be true.) In other words, the examples (above) are not arbitrary, disconnected, or "all over the map." They are the logical consequences of the view under investigation. If we accept the truth of feelings being trump over reality, then the truth of the examples should all follow. But clearly they aren't all true. The proper response/ conclusion, then, should be this: the view that feelings are trump over reality is false.

For further reading:

March 31, 2016

William James

William James (1842-1910)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, March 31, 2016

William James

In “The Will to Believe” psychologist-philosopher William James (1842-1910) famously argues that under certain conditions (which James specifies) religious belief can be reasonable in the absence of evidence.

Let’s clarify James’s view (in part by contrasting it with the views of others) and then assess.

For contemporary philosopher Alvin Plantinga, if God exists, belief can be rational even if not supported by evidence or argument because we have some “properly basic beliefs” (which are part of our properly functioning faculty for knowing). If God exists, we have a sensus divinitatus, i.e., a sense or knowledge of the divine given to us by God. No argument needed. In contrast, James doesn’t assume God’s existence, but we can still be rational in choosing or willing to believe.

According philosopher William Clifford (1845-1879), it’s always irrational to believe anything without sufficient evidence (though Clifford apparently didn't notice he was believing this without evidence), and because there isn’t sufficient evidence for God, we ought not believe. In contrast, James doesn’t argue that there is sufficient evidence for God (he thinks there isn't), but James still holds one can be reasonable believing without evidence (and without Plantinga's basic belief).

How so? According to James, to be reasonable in willing or choosing religious belief without evidence one must be facing what James calls a “genuine option” for belief. A genuine option is a religious belief that satisfies three conditions.

(a) It must be a live hypothesis—it’s a real possibility for you. A present-day world religion may be a real possibility for you, depending on where you live. The gods of Olympus would not be a live option for you.

(b) It must be a forced option—there’s no avoiding it. You must choose for or against it. Postponing, say, a marriage proposal until you are 100% sure is in effect to say No.

(c) It must be a momentous option. The implications of risking a false belief are better than having no belief or remaining agnostic. There is an underlying gamble for “the best things.”

Think of a mountain climber stranded in a storm. He hears a voice telling him to jump to safety. He can stay put (and freeze to death) or jump (and possibly live). Better to jump.

According to James, willing to believe is reasonable if the option is live, forced, and momentous.

Okay, so is it reasonable for us to choose or will to agree with James?

I have concerns.

I think the momentousness of the gamble may also be a reason for resisting the will/urge to believe. If the stakes are high—really high—perhaps I should be more careful in my gamble. And especially if there is a plurality of live options.

If I am a stranded mountain climber and there are competing voices—some from climbing experts, some from novices, perhaps some from persons who wish me dead—telling me to do different things to get off the mountain, I should pause (at least briefly) to assess.

Moreover, the plurality of live religious options also works against the forced aspect of the option. It’s not just yes to one or the other; it’s yes to one or the other or the other or the other, etc.  If I’m deciding which one woman I should marry and I have several “live options,” I should take time to get counseling!

Also, what if the “live option” is a religion that uses cult techniques (misinformation and emotional manipulation) to make it live for you?

Surely, as contemporary philosopher Patrick Quinn points out, such considerations suggest “the need for a more reasonable approach to religious faith and not one that is based on the will alone but rather the ‘informed’ will.”

To arbitrate between competing religious options, then, we need to test the spirits and “spiritualities” for truth. Enter careful investigation of evidence and the humble use of good reasoning.

That's why I take Easter seriously.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)