Stereotype threat and intellectual virtue

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6 Citations (Scopus)


I grew up with two cats. Both of them would regularly do things that cats just aren’t supposed to do. They would trip while walking down the stairs, attempt to jump on to the sofa but underestimate the height, roll off the chair while enjoying belly scratches, and so on. The thing is, though, that only one of these cats was a genuinely stupid animal. He really didn’t know how to put one paw in front of the other. He really couldn’t estimate heights. He really didn’t notice the edge of the chair until it was too late. For all I could tell, the other wasn’t a particularly dumb cat; she was just highly neurotic. She was afraid of everything, and when she got scared, she lost focus and did silly things. When she tripped while walking down the stairs, it wasn’t because she didn’t know where her legs were, but because she would startle at a loud sound and lose her concentration. When she failed to jump onto the couch, it wasn’t because she couldn’t estimate heights, but because she was in a fright, fleeing an imaginary assailant. When she rolled off the chair, it wasn’t because she couldn’t detect the edge, but because she would panic in the middle of the belly scratches. The point is that the same manifest behaviors can be expressions of very different dispositions. When one cat takes a tumble, it’s because he’s a stupid cat. When the other takes a tumble, it’s because her fear distracts her and masks her feline intelligence. It would be a mistake to ignore such masking when inferring a cat’s psychological dispositions from her behavior. What’s needed is a nuanced accounting of how her many dispositions interact with one another and the environment to produce the behavior she manifests.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNaturalizing epistemic virtue
EditorsAbrol Fairweather, Owen Flanagan
Place of PublicationLondon ; New York
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781139236348
ISBN (Print)9781107028579
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


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