Paul Bloomfield (Philosophy Department)

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Paul Bloomfield, Associate Professor of Philosophy, is currently working on a project titled "A Theory of the Good Life".
Paul Bloomfield, Professor of Philosophy

The Vicious Causes of Prejudicial Judgment

In general, judgments and/or beliefs are the product of natural and evolutionarily-selected mechanisms, such that if these mechanisms are properly functioning, then the judgments and beliefs they issue are reliably accurate, correct, or true. Prejudicial judgments are one of the chief causes of the breakdown of civil discourse, where “prejudicial judgments” are understood as ill-formed judgments which are the result of the malfunctioning of a person’s cognitive faculties due to endogenous yet distorting influences – vices – of a person’s character.

The proposal is to study the influence of moral character flaws, or moral vices, on these belief-forming mechanisms. The guiding thought is that these are character flaws which, in particular, cause us to commit the injustice of “prejudging” a case: to draw the wrong conclusion about a case as a result of bias or not giving it fair, full, and open-minded consideration. Different vices can have similarly unjust outcomes. Consider an analogous case from morality: There are two military quartermasters, one who steals chocolate from the troops to sell on the black market for profit and another who is a glutton who steals the chocolate to binge on it in a fit of weakness of will. Obviously, the injustice done to the troops in both cases is identical, though it is caused by two different character flaws: injustice and intemperance. In applying these lessons to epistemology, we can see that prejudicial judgment can be caused by either injustice or intemperance. Other vices, such as arrogance, servility, cowardice, recklessness, laziness, imprudence, etc., can also pervert one’s belief-forming mechanisms resulting in prejudicial judgment.