Signal Manipulation and the Causal Analysis of Racial Discrimination

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 9 (2022)
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Abstract

Discussions of the causal status of race focus on the question of whether race itself can be experimentally manipulated. Yet many experiments testing for racial discrimination do not manipulate race, but rather a signal by which race influences an outcome. Such signal manipulations are easily formalized, though contexts of discrimination introduce significant philosophical complications. Whether a signal counts as a signal for race is not merely a causal question, but depends on sociological and normative issues regarding discrimination. The notion of signal manipulation enables one to take these issues into account while still using causal counterfactual tests to detect discrimination. The analysis provided here is compatible with social constructivism and helps differentiate between cases in which it is more or less fruitful to model race causally.

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Naftali Weinberger
Tilburg Center For Logic, Ethics, And Philosophy Of Science (TiLPS - Tilburg University)