On Thursday, Feb. 2, students and faculty gathered in the Everest Lounge to hear Princeton University’s Department of Philosophy Professor Dr. Tom Kelly present his paper “Bias: Some Conceptual Geography.” This talk marks the sixth speaker for the Annual Philosophy Speakers Series. The series is designed to promote discussion within the field of philosophy across college campuses.
Dr. Kelly received his doctorate from Harvard University and was a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. In addition to Princeton, he has also taught at the University of Notre Dame. His research largely lies within epistemology and the theory of rationality.
Professor Kelly began his presentation by addressing what biases are and where they form. He mentioned where various forms of biases are present such as some media outlets, courts, and even objects. He examined how various news stations lean in certain political directions whether it be right or left.
For instance, he stated how Fox News tends to maintain a more conservative political perspective while MSNBC tends to maintain a more liberal approach. People and their beliefs operate these organizations and the climate of the journalism is potentially affected by these biases.
Dr. Kelly then began to explain how biases and how people obtain them is the topic of his research. He argued that one’s cognitive procedures are biased. He stated that people maintaining biased views is less fundamental than their processes’ outcomes. One obtains a biased view through a biased cognitive process that forms and sustains the view.
Dr. Kelly then proceeded to discuss the extent of his research by identifying different aspects of biases. He argued that both people and objects are biased. For instance, Dr. Kelly described how objects are placed in certain, biased dispositions and when after flipping a coin, the chances of it landing on either heads or tails are not necessarily even.
Various factors play into this action that affect the outcome. These factors include the material of the coin as well as the characteristics of the surface of where the coin lands. The coin might not be entirely flat or made out of material of even weight designed for flipping.
Additionally, the surface of where the coin lands might also not be entirely flat—affecting the outcome of the coin toss. Therefore, objects, as well as people, maintain biases because of their biased processes.
Dr. Kelly then drew the distinction between bias versus reliability. He stated that unreliable views do not necessarily imply a bias. For instance, he admitted that if he had the choice, in the right setting, that he would rather eat too much food than too little food.
He then asked the students and faculty if that choice exemplified a bias? He stated how the more cognitive the decision, the more likely it is to be biased. Additionally, whether or not the cognitive process is biased depends on the subject’s environment. As to whether biases are unreliable, Dr. Kelly mentioned that it depends on the characteristics of the person.
The question-and-answer portion of the event began after Dr. Kelly finished his presentation. Many questions were asked but one question that a student asked also happened to be a question Dr. Kelly already had in mind. The student asked that if the biased processes that produce biases could be fully identified and understood, then could all biases be identified? Dr. Kelly mentioned that this question is one of the many topics he intends to cover in his future research. Similar questions were then asked by both students and faculty to further their understanding of the extent of his research and its potential implications, concluding the event.