Research Seminar

Åsa Burman and Katharina Berndt Rasmussen: Implicit bias, discrimination, and moral responsibility

Date: 17 October 2018
Time: 10:00-12:00

Åsa Burman, Director of Studies in practical philosophy at Stockholm University and affilited researcher at the Institute for Futures Studies & Katharina Berndt Rasmussen, Researcher at the Institute for Futures Studies.


Since the launch of the Implicit Association Test in 1998, hundreds of thousands of test subjects have been diagnosed with an “automatic preference of white people over black people” and an “automatic association between liberal arts and females and between science and males”, to take two prominent examples. This is worrisome since it is assumed that implicit bias, as measured by the IAT, causes discrimination in real life. Is implicit bias discrimination different from other forms of racist and sexist discrimination? Is it morally wrong in the same way these are? Looking at the empirical evidence, as well as ethical theories of discrimination, results in a few surprising answers.

The current debate about implicit bias and moral responsibility focuses primarily on individuals and their behavior – is a person morally responsible for having implicit bias; for manifesting it; or for not acting on the knowledge that she most likely is biased? This individualistic bent also shows up in suggested solutions: Personal intervention is by far the most common type of solution. The question of collective moral responsibility for implicit bias, however, has hitherto been overlooked: Can we as a collective – a nation, club, or as board of directors of an organization – be held morally responsible for implicit bias in individuals? I answer in the positive. More specifically, I use the new concept of ”constitutive responsibility” and a real case of gender bias in entrepreneurial funding to argue that both collectives and individuals are sometimes morally responsible for implicit bias in individuals.

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