First of all, recall that ethics aims to provide evaluations of all possible actions. It does this by consistently applying its standards of judgment. In this way, ethics is systematic and objective.
One of the biggest barriers to proper ethical evaluation is when our own attitudes or views distort a fair and even evaluation of things. This is commonly referred to as bias.
You may not even be aware of your own biases. In fact, biases frequently inform our judgments without us knowing it.
Preferences for certain appearances often turn out to be misleading. There are three main steps that you need to take in order to make accurate judgments about people.
There are some common sources of bias. Firstly, you could be biased because it suits your own interests to do so. Secondly, you might be biased in favor of something just because you’re familiar with it (or biased against it if it’s unfamiliar). Finally, bias might result from how you were brought up, for example, your religious upbringing.
In the next section we will look at various examples of evaluations that are informed by biases from these sources.
Let’s start with bias from self-interest. Typical examples are where you judge someone harshly for some behavior, but let yourself off the hook when you do this same behavior.
Let’s say you normally think that talking loudly on a phone in public is rude and you wish that people would challenge this behavior more often. Imagine you get into a heated--and loud--argument with someone on your phone.
You say to yourself it was justified because the person on the other end of the phone was being obnoxious. Here, you’ve made yourself an exception from your normal judgment because it suits you to do so in this case.
There are many similar instances where you’re biased in favor of your own behavior because it’s convenient for you to be.
In this case, you would have allowed bias to inform your favorable judgment on yourself.
Now let’s consider bias due to familiarity or unfamiliarity. It’s fairly well known that much racism is due to unfamiliarity.
By contrast, you may be biased in favor of someone just because they share your cultural or social background.
Finally, consider how upbringing shapes our views. Many people think that we ought to raise a family, and do so in a traditional manner. Often, this is because they’ve been brought up to think this is the only way to properly become an adult. But to think that someone who decides against starting a family is necessarily avoiding adult responsibilities is a biased ethical judgment.
One particular way we may become biased through upbringing is religion. If your religion teaches that homosexuality is sinful, you might judge homosexuals as bad people, even if they aren’t.
Now that you have seen how bias can cloud our judgment in various different ways, you can have a go at identifying bias in a specific situation. Consider the example below and think about where bias informs judgments.
The actions would have been evaluated in the following way:
An unfair preference for or against something