Are Algorithms Value-Free? Feminist Theoretical Virtues in Machine Learning

Journal Moral Philosophy:1-35 (forthcoming)
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As inductive decision-making procedures, the inferences made by machine learning programs are subject to underdetermination by evidence and bear inductive risk. One strategy for overcoming these challenges is guided by a presumption in philosophy of science that inductive inferences can and should be value-free. Applied to machine learning programs, the strategy assumes that the influence of values is restricted to data and decision outcomes, thereby omitting internal value-laden design choice points. In this paper, I apply arguments from feminist philosophy of science to machine learning programs to make the case that the resources required to respond to these inductive challenges render critical aspects of their design constitutively value-laden. I demonstrate these points specifically in the case of recidivism algorithms, arguing that contemporary debates concerning fairness in criminal justice risk-assessment programs are best understood as iterations of traditional arguments from inductive risk and demarcation, and thereby establish the value-laden nature of automated decision-making programs. Finally, in light of these points, I address opportunities for relocating the value-free ideal in machine learning and the limitations that accompany them.



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Gabbrielle M. Johnson
Claremont McKenna College

Citations of this work

Oppressive Things.Shen-yi Liao & Bryce Huebner - 2020 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 103 (1):92-113.

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References found in this work

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Ian Hacking.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas Samuel Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Otto Neurath.
Fact, Fiction, and Forecast.Nelson Goodman - 1965 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Knowledge and practical interests.Jason Stanley - 2005 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal.Heather Douglas - 2009 - University of Pittsburgh Press.

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