What Can Science Tell Us About Equality?
Into the Gap
Does science have anything to say about equality? Some have disputed a direct relationship between empirical fact and what we ought to do; Hume pointed this out as the is — ought problem. For instance, if we discovered a way to increase everyone’s happiness, the discovery alone is not sufficient to suggest we should do it. But this is not to be mistaken with the argument that Hume DIDN’T propose, that empirical facts have nothing to do with what we ought to do, we just have to support our facts with reason.
The following examples are some of the topics covered in a book I recently self-published on Amazon, and if you find the questions in this post interesting, you should go check it out.
Need we mind the is-ought gap so much? Empirical facts do have significance upon our conception of equality, and our conception of equality changes the way we feel about certain political ideals. Take job equality for women. Whether or not it is a fact that women want different jobs, and whether or not this is due to biology or social stigma, changes the way we feel about it. If society stigmatizes a sex to relegate it to certain jobs, then we want to stop that stigmatization, because one ought not to be treated in relation to a group they belong. Equality demands they be treated in accordance with their own behavior and disposition. But if there are psychological differences between the sexes equality has to contend with this fact.
Is Informs Ought
Whether or not being poor has adverse effects and whether or not the poor can choose otherwise has serious consequences for how we look at welfare. How could one hope to mount an argument for welfare if there was no empirical proof that being poor caused some negative effect? Finding evidence that being poor causes less wise economic decisions has implications — none of which are that we ought to hold the poor more responsible for their poverty in light of this fact. Finding evidence that someone has no causal relationship with their position naturally leads us to not hold that person responsible for their position. For instance, we don’t condemn our friend at dinner when he accidentally — having no intentional causal role — knocks over a ketchup bottle on our new shirt. Even our hunter gatherer ancestors didn’t punish accidents, they punished to deter. If the narrative that the poor are stuck in a cyclical loop of poverty is true, we ought to lend a hand.
Facts about whether or not we have a causal role in our implicit attitudes towards our fellow citizens also has significance. Let’s say you are a manager, and you could have altered your unconscious attitudes towards black people, and that would have caused you to not pass over a more qualified black employee for a white one, what does this say about the level of culpability you have for being implicitly racist? “Could have acted otherwise” is the ruler for culpability, which informs our level of punishment — even though it may not ultimately really make sense, especially if the world is determined. Did you have every chance to act otherwise? Or maybe a single chance to act otherwise? Or maybe no chance to act otherwise? We can remove people from positions if they are racist whether or not they has a causal role in their racism —that punishment is for the equality of others, and not determined by the level of culpability of the racist. But the way we judge people who are implicitly racist hinges on whether or not they factually have access to change their implicit bias — and for that matter whether or not implicit attitude tests, which gauge unconscious racism, are valid.
Having an accurate picture of science is the best way to craft informed policy. Why do we think so many policy crafting positions are typically knowledgeable in a scientific field? This is not to say that only scientists should be policy makers, but that having an accurate understanding of the empirical science is the only way to make sensible policy. The problem of government policy is a whole different topic. Government officials are saddled with representing the people and proposing policy, weighting fact and their duty to the people. Science is always the loser when an official is torn between the two; we should not be surprised when officials deny fact in order to represent an interest the people have, because that is their main role as an elected official. Convincing the populace of the facts is a good start to swaying officials — alas it is not the only roadblock to creating sensible policy.