Critical Thinking in Prejudice and Prejudgment Assignment 2
Please read the passage below. Write a very short essay (1 page, 12-point font, single or double spaced, normal margins, no cover page) in which you evaluate the argument(s) contained in the passage below.
Your response should do two things. First, clearly, state the argument made by the author of the passage. Once you have isolated the argument from any extraneous material, analyze the argument into the premises, sub-conclusions (if any) and conclusion. I would prefer you to do this in point form, simply listing the premises, sub-conclusions (if any) and conclusion. Be sure to make a very clear statement of each point. (So, for example, do not use the word ‘I’ to refer to anyone but yourself.) Second, evaluate the quality of the argument, giving reasons to justify your evaluation.
Write out your evaluation in the form of a very, very short essay: a long paragraph or two should do nicely. For purposes of evaluation, assume the speaker is Brandon Bean, a member of this section of Critical Thinking, and assume that his audience is you, the class as a whole.
Prejudice and Pre-judgement
Prejudice is always bad. That much is clear. But it is also misunderstood. As many people know, the word ‘prejudice’ comes from ‘pre-judgement’. The idea is that the prejudiced person is the one who makes a prior negative judgment about some people without knowing whether or not those people really deserve that judgment. Most people assume that pre-judgment is automatically prejudiced: that it is automatically bad. But they are wrong.
Imagine you are asked for spare change by a man who appears drunk, and who sounds a bit aggressive. You can see and hear that he is a member of certain groups (beggars, drunks, men, people who take an aggressive tone of voice). You will automatically form a belief about how likely it is that this person will take a hostile action towards you. Will you judge this person the same as a sober, polite-sounding teenaged girl who asks for a quarter to make a phone call? No. You will judge the beggar as more dangerous. You will make a negative judgment about him based on the groups he belongs to. But is this wrong? No.
Why is it not wrong to make this negative judgment? This is a complicated question, that I cannot answer perfectly. However, it seems to me that part of the answer is this: this negative judgment is statistically accurate. It is more common for drunken male beggars to threaten or commit assault on strangers than it is for sober teenaged girls. And a rational estimate of risk cannot be improper. It would be wrong to continue to treat the man as more dangerous than the girl if one learned more about the two that showed otherwise – if one learned that the man had never committed assault, but that the girl was just recently released from prison after an armed robbery, say. But this does nothing to show that reasonable beliefs about people are themselves bad. Negative judgments are ok after all.
Note: You may wish to consult your fellow students, parents, or friends about your assignment. I encourage you to do so. However (and this is crucial), any help you get must be acknowledged. If your mom reads your assignment over to check your grammar, include a footnote or endnote thanking her for this service. If you discuss the general ideas you have with a friend, write “Thanks to Lisa Kudrow for a helpful discussion” or something of the sort. If you borrow a specific idea from someone, put in a footnote saying “I got this idea from Mark Improvement” or whoever. Also important: although I’m all in favor of talking about philosophy assignments with others, you are not permitted to actually write together, or to write up shared outlines, or to share written work with one another. Be sensible here: don’t give a photocopy of your essay to someone else who “just wants to get an idea” for his own paper. Conversation is good for thought; shared written work is (in this course) plagiarism.