Philosophy and Biology: Where did all the Liberals Go?

In moral philosophy, ideas are frequently investigated through hypothetical considerations. Through hypotheticals, we are forced to confront contradictory implications. Ideas are tested against the manifold of our dispositions. Most people have heard variants of this one:

As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?

When it comes to Human Biodiversity and society we have the following dilemma:

Imagine a society in which there are different recognizable ancestral and ethnic populations. Imagine you know that these populations, on average, will not perform equally across all social dimensions, and particularly in some desired fields. Do you structure society to make sure that there is proportionate group representation in desired fields or do you affirm individual rights.

This hypothetical tests how we think about equality in relation to individuals, groups, opportunity, and outcomes. It’s interesting to see the answers we get. It’s even more interesting to see the attempts made to not answer it. Take Richard Nisbett’s comment in Race, genetics, and IQ:

If such a difference were wholly or substantially genetic in origin, the implications for American society would be dire. It would mean that even if the environmental playing field were leveled, a much higher proportion of blacks than whites would have trouble supporting themselves, and a much lower proportion of blacks than whites would be professionals and successful business people. A recent example of this claim can be found in the phenomenally successful book The Bell Curve (1994), by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray.

Why, exactly, would the implications be dire? One can either continue with group based discrimination or focus on individual rights. Jensen made this point a while back:

However, note that adverse impact is a phenomenon wholly related to group differences. It need not be seen as a problem if selection were only thought of in terms of individual differences. Thus the “dilemma” referred to in the title of my essay really boils down to the kind of question that science is unable to answer. It is the old question of whether group rights should predominate over individual rights. This is inherently not a scientific question at all, but a philosophical and ethical one. I have spelled out my opinion about it elsewhere (Jensen, 1991), to the effect that insistence on individual rights will, both in the short run and in the long run, provide the best assurance of whatever fairness for all persons lies within the power of human endeavor to achieve. The emphasis, I believe, should be on furthering equal opportunity and equal treatment for all persons, and let group outcomes become what they may, rather than eliminating adverse impact merely by having group rights trump individual rights. On this point, of course, the argument devolves wholly on philosophic principle and social consent. Scientists may legitimately formulate predictions about the probable outcomes of different public policies, but they are no better qualified philosophically or ethically than any other citizens to choose which policy should be empowered. In our system of government, such decisions rest with the citizens, their elected representatives, and ultimately with the courts.
— Jensen, 2000.

The dire aspect for Nisbett et al., is that it would force them to face the above hypothetical, which they don’t want to, because it shatters their liberal ideas. Elsewhere I noted that Flynn holds that the Flynn effect offers analytic proof against Jensen’s “steal logic”; in the same way, we might say that HBD offers an analytic demonstration of the incoherence of contemporary Liberal thinking.

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