Tag Archives: stereotyping


Like anyone who teaches critical thinking, I spend some time on the topic of stereotyping.  Like most philosophers (so goes the stereotype at least), my discussion is not informed by empirical research.

No longer: Stereotype (In)accuracy in Perceptions of Groups and Individuals:

Psychological perspectives once defined stereotypes as inaccurate, casting them as rigid (Lippmann, 1922/1991), rationalizations of prejudice (La Piere, 1936), out of touch with reality (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999), or exaggerations based on small “kernels of truth” (Allport, 1954/1979; Table 1). These common definitions are untenable. Almost any belief about almost any group has been considered a stereotype in empirical studies (Jussim, 2012). It is, however, impossible for all beliefs about groups to be inaccurate. This would make it “inaccurate” to believe either that two groups differ or that they do not differ.

Is this just a terminological problem? My informal (read: untutored) sense is that the term might best be limited to those instances of false generalizations about people meant to diminish or otherwise pigeonhole them, on analogy with the way fallacy names are applied. Thus, not all ad hominem scheme arguments are fallacious, but let’s reserve “ad hominem” for those instances which are.

Culture warriors, like, always commit hasty generalization

Robert Stacy McCain’s post at the American Spectator is an exercise in hasty generalization.  McCain reports on the egregious behavior of one Hugo Schwyzer of Pasadena City College.  Schwyzer loves sleeping with the undergrads.  By his own reckoning, by 1998, he’d slept with at least 24 of his students.  He also passed himself off as a scholar of feminism, sexuality, and gender justice.  So he teaches classes about pornography and then sends out pics of himself masturbating.  Dude sounds like a straight-up weirdo, no doubt.  Trouble is, McCain takes Schwyzer to be representative of what the professorate is like generally.

Actually, there was a lot odd about Schwyzer’s career, but he may have seemed fairly normal among the lunatic perverts employed by sex-crazed academia nowadays….

But he is certainly not alone in his madness, which is merely symptomatic of how American academia has lost its collective mind.

So, how does McCain base this thought that Schwyzwer’s behavior is representative of academic culture?  By invoking Bill Ayers, Herbert Marcuse, some women’s studies professors who are ‘queer theorists’ and advocate lesbianism to their students, a Columbia prof who had a sexual relationship with his own daughter, and Freud.

Here’s the deal.  It’s too easy to take the worst actors (or who may seem the worst) in a group as representative of the group.  Say, for example: Republican Senators against gay rights but who nevertheless proposition men in bathrooms.  Or preachers who preach clean living yet take advantage of their position of power to coerce women to have sex with them.  See? Easy.  But they aren’t necessarily representative.  What happens is that these folks and their behaviors are so egregious, they stick with us and become easy ways to characterize the groups.  This is the error of what’s called an ‘availability cascade,’ and it screws up the way we make reliable inductive inferences. And so we see one here – egregious behavior by professor causes right-wing pundit to generalize that behavior to all profs.

Just like a philosopher to stereotype

Branding small

Today, this was pinned on the bulletin board in the departmental office.

I don’t see any reason to think that this is how philosophers in general think of branding.  On the basis of what is this individual performance to be taken as representative?  However, this performance is a very good sterotyping version of hasty generalization.  So there’s that.

Common sense

Fig 1: “a uniform we all recognize”

I remember a while back, maybe three years ago, Juan Williams, now of Fox News but then of NPR, remarked that people in Muslim-looking garb on planes made him nervous.  That was a silly bit of profiling, of course.  Now in the wake of the Trayvon Martin not guilty verdict, racial profiling is all the rage, at least at the Washington Post.  Both Richard Cohen, who is allegedly a liberal columnist, and Kathleen Parker (a conservative) have penned columns justifying some sort of profiling.  Here is Parker:

This is not to justify what subsequently transpired between Zimmerman and Martin but to cast a dispassionate eye on reality. And no, just because a few black youths caused trouble doesn’t mean all black youths should be viewed suspiciously. This is so obvious a truth that it shouldn’t need saying and yet, if we are honest, we know that human nature includes the accumulation of evolved biases based on experience and survival. In the courtroom, it’s called profiling. In the real world, it’s called common sense.

Oddly, this “dispassionate eye on reality” seems to suggest that racial profilers, such as Zimmerman appears to have been, lack common sense.  For, after all, being suspicious of biases such as these is common sense, common decency, and basic intellectual skill.  Now to be fair, the rest of her piece, by the way, isn’t that bad–or at least not as bad as Richard Cohen’s horrible meditation on hoodies:

Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males? This does not mean that raw racism has disappeared, and some judgments are not the product of invidious stereotyping. It does mean, though, that the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime. In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population, yet they represent78 percent of all shooting suspects — almost all of them young men. We know them from the nightly news.

Sounds like your uncle at Thanksgiving–for excellent analysis of Cohen’s unpardonably bad piece, see Jamelle Bouie.

TL;DR: this horrible crime (I think) ought at least to provide us an opportunity to reflect on the malfunctioning operation of common sense, or racism, as some call it.