Bias & Philosophy

Many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices 

William James – Philosopher and Psychologist

Philosophically, there are two basic ways to approach the topic of Bias: by relying on what one considers to be fair, based upon a particular ad hoc perspective; or by genuinely attempting to think from multiple perspectives simultaneously. 


Broadly, the first considers that the existence of a bias should be established based upon the, so called, "morality" of the prevailing cultural viewpoint; whereas the second believes it should be established analytically. Only one of these can be the correct approach as they are mutually exclusive. For philosophers this is the historical Pragmatism v. Empiricism conundrum. 


If bias is a moral and cultural question then obviously it can't be treated scientifically. If it is a scientific question then, equally clearly, it can't involve issues of morality or culture. Unless, of course, one's philosophy allows one to throw the generally understood foundations of science out of the window. 


The following two definitions of bias tend to represent the two philosophies (where an object is any idea, product, person, or specified grouping of people):

[1] A prejudice in flavor of, or against, an object usually in a way considered to be unfair; a narrow viewpoint with a failure to consider alternative points of view. It is frequently synonymous with injustice, being judgmental, and not having an open mind.  

[2] An over-emphasis or exclusive focus on the negative (or positive) aspects of an object with an under-statement or disregard of the positive (or negative) aspects of that object, when compared to other contending objects (specified or implied). 


Let's look at the implications of these definitions: Number [1] gets into trouble because it omits to specify who or how the decision regarding fairness is made; what is the correct breath of viewpoints to be considered; or how good judgement shall be separated from bad judgment, in order to call others judgmental.


Number [2] uses a comparison approach and the underlined phrase in its definition is what enables the topic of bias to be analyzed without any direct reference to variables like morality or culture. A further feature is that the aspects of the objects that are being compared can be determined before any analysis takes place. 


As the author of this website accepts the conventional approach to scientific analysis this site is based on the reliability of philosophy [2].  Comments and corrections, however, would be appreciated.   


Discernment, not open-mindedness, reduces the effects of bias – it is achieved by linking facts that form a logical chain with no weak links


Anything and everything offends somebody 

Rex Stout - Author