Thoughts on Implicit Bias

Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez
Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez

In The Zhuangzi, it is written that Confucius says there are two decrees in the world. One is fate and the other is duty. I’m not sure exactly what he means by fate – whether it is determinism involving no free will, propensities mental or physical, or simply death – but it is written that an example of fate is that a son would love his mother, presuming normativity. To put this more generally, the decree of fate is that some things are the way that they are. The second decree that he mentions, the decree of duty, is that a subject would serve under his ruler, that is, one is subject to certain things.

At this point, I’d like to point out that a decree is defined as an order by legal authority, which begs a question of how accurate a translation is “decree” from the Chinese text, and following from that question, there’s another question: who or what, if this can apply to an abstraction, gives this decree?

For the purpose of this post, I’ll just focus on what is said about fate. Since I am referring to a translation of The Zhuangzi, I’m sure that the use of the word ‘fate’ is an imperfect translation for what was meant in the Chinese version. But the example which Zhuangzi provides is enough to understand what is being meant, that is, even though a sage should have no love or hate or genuine intention, what Zhuangzi says about fate provides a better idea of a sage.

It is granted that the sage acts with inaction, but he also acts in accordance with his implicit bias. In this way, it makes sense that Laozi would dig out the trash for a salad – he could have done other things to get some food, but instead he chose to do what he did, as strange as it is. But what makes his implicit bias not matter is that he doesn’t concern himself with his bias.

Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Francis Bacon
Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Francis Bacon

And in much the same way, I found that I had a “moderately strong implicit bias towards thin people” using Harvard’s Implicit Bias test, which Yang wanted me to try. Knowing that I had this bias, there are two immediate choices for me in regards to following the Tao. I should either try to eliminate the bias somehow or try not to eliminate the bias at all. The first choice I see as breaking the concept of acting with inaction in order to better follow the Tao. The second choice I see as accepting the bias to prevent double injury. Maybe you can guess which one I chose.


If you have nothing to do, consider trying out the test and see which of the two choices you’d consider best.


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Hui Ho

I attend the University of Rochester and plan on majoring in philosophy. I try to talk to many people about Taoism to see their perspective, but that often can't be done because most don't know what Taoism or eastern philosophy teach. So, I contribute to to help others know the merits of eastern philosophy, and more specifically the philosophy of Zhuangzi.

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