The Right to Feel Comfortable: Implicit Bias and the Moral Potential of Discomfort

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Abstract

An increasingly popular view in scholarly literature and public debate on implicit biases holds that there is progressive moral potential in the discomfort that liberals and egalitarians feel when they realize they harbor implicit biases. The strong voices among such discomfort advocates believe we have a moral and political duty to confront people with their biases even though we risk making them uncomfortable. Only a few voices have called attention to the aversive effects of discomfort. Such discomfort skeptics warn that, because people often react negatively to feeling blamed or called-out, the result of confrontational approaches is often counterproductive. To deepen this critique, I distinguish between awareness discomfort and interaction discomfort, developing a contextual approach that draws on recent research on negative affect and emotions to chart a more complete picture of the moral limits of discomfort. I argue that discomfort advocates risk overrating the moral potential of discomfort if they underestimate the extent to which context shapes the interpretation of affect and simple, raw feelings.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEthical Theory and Moral Practice
Volume23
Issue number1, 2020
Pages (from-to)237-250
ISSN1386-2820
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • Implicit bias
  • Emotions
  • Distress
  • Structural discrimination
  • Affect
  • Responsibility for bias

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