Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Philosophy and Public Affairs

Reader 1

Greg Antill

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

Rights Information

© 2017 Wesley Whitaker


Are implicit biases something we can rightly be held responsible for, and if so, how? A variety of social and cognitive psychological studies have documented the existence of wide-ranging implicit biases for over 30 years. These implicit biases can best be described as negative mental attitudes that operate immediately and unconsciously in response to specific stimuli. The first chapter of this thesis surveys the psychological literature, as well as presents findings of real-world experiments into racial biases. I then present the dominant model of implicit attitudes as mere associations, followed by evidence that at least some implicit attitudes take on a propositional form and involve making inferences based on evidence. I then reject adopting either of these two rigid models in favor of a dispositional approach that treats implicit biases as on the same spectrum of, but adjacent to, beliefs.

I then evaluate the moral wrongdoing associated with holding explicitly prejudicial beliefs, appealing first to Kantian notions of respecting individuals as agents, then appealing to Strawson’s argument that we are responsible for expressions of our will. Our status as human agents involves participating in complex and sustained interactions with others, which necessarily implies that we take part in the social practice of holding each other responsible for the quality of their will. The reactive attitudes we display in our everyday interactions indicate which features and circumstances are most important when investigating this practice. After applying this approach to implicit attitudes, I then pose the objection that their unconscious and unendorsed nature disqualifies implicit attitudes as proper expressions of our will. I develop this objection using Scanlon’s account of moral responsibility, which requires the capacity to self-govern in light of principles that are generally agreed upon as good reasons for guiding interactions with one another. Finally, I critique Real Self theories that seek to arbitrarily privilege one part of ourselves in favor of the Whole Self, which privileges those features that are most integrated into our overall character.