The Department of Philosophy and Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program congratulate PNP Graduate Student Cameron Evans in successfully defending his doctoral dissertation Oppression and the Limits of Individual Moral Progress.
Abstract: Systemic social problems are the product of complex interactions among institutions, policies, biases, stereotypes, and false beliefs. While we may be pessimistic about our abilities to combat social change, we may remain optimistic about our abilities as individuals to achieve moral growth. However, in societies organized by socially unjust practices, our individual capacities for improvement may be stunted. My primary concern is to identify key obstacles to our moral development.
I argue that "self-help" methods for reducing our social biases and prejudices are ineffective. Our biases interact in complex ways with each other, and with the environment, in ways that complicate our individual efforts for improvement. Moreover, I argue our abilities to identify and correct our false beliefs can be hindered by learned social practices. I argue such an ignorance can explain differences in epistemic success across social identities. For example, sexist social practices might encourage men to be willfully ignorant, or to develop epistemic vice. Nonetheless, men making genuine attempts to understand sexism may characteristically fail to correct their ignorance due to pervasive sexist practices for conceptualizing social life and sexist epistemic practices.
If we fail to understand the factors that get in the way of our personal moral development, we may grow complacent with the illusion of moral growth and we may demonize others who need a helping hand. With a better understanding of the limits on our moral growth, we can start to think more productively about what we can actually do to affect positive moral change in ourselves and in the world.