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The Problem of (Other) Racist Minds

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In epistemology, the problem of other minds is the challenge of proving that I know other beings have thoughts and feelings analogous to my own. One practical variation on this problem is knowing when someone is being honest: how do I know that their words match what they really believe? But the version I am concerned with here is the problem of racist minds. That is, how do I know when someone is a racist? Racism, like dishonesty, comes in degrees. Just as everyone is a bit dishonest, everyone is a bit racist. But a person should not be labeled a liar unless they are dishonest to a significant and meaningful degree. Likewise, for being a racist.  A person should not be labeled as a racist unless their racism is significant and meaningful. There is, of course, no exact boundary line that precisely defines when a person should be considered a liar or a racist. Fortunately, we can get by with imprecise standards and accept that there will be grey areas. To demand a precise line would, of course, fall into the classic line drawing fallacy. It is important to be able to distinguish racists from people who merely seem racist. One reason is that an accusation of racism can have serious consequences and such claims should not be made lightly. Another reason is that racists should be exposed for what they are—a masquerading racist can be an effective recruiter and agent for racism. I am, of course, assuming that racism is bad. As such, what is needed are reliable tests for sorting out racists from non-racists. The same need for a test arises in the classic problem of other minds. Descartes proposed a language-based test for other minds. Roughly put, if something uses true language, then it has a mind and thinks. Turing created his own variation on this test, one that is more famous than Descartes’ original test. In the case of testing for racism, it is assumed that people have minds—so that problem is bypassed (or ignored) for practical reasons. It might be wondered why. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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