Profiles, Probabilities, And Stereotypes

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This book employs a careful, rigorous, yet lively approach to the timely question of whether we can justly generalize about members of a group on the basis of statistical tendencies of that group. For instance, should a military academy exclude women because, on average, women are more sensitive to hazing than men? Should airlines force all pilots to retire at age sixty, even though most pilots at that age have excellent vision? Can all pit bulls be banned because of the aggressive characteristics of the breed? ...

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PROFILES, PROBABILITIES, AND STEREOTYPES

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Overview

This book employs a careful, rigorous, yet lively approach to the timely question of whether we can justly generalize about members of a group on the basis of statistical tendencies of that group. For instance, should a military academy exclude women because, on average, women are more sensitive to hazing than men? Should airlines force all pilots to retire at age sixty, even though most pilots at that age have excellent vision? Can all pit bulls be banned because of the aggressive characteristics of the breed? And, most controversially, should government and law enforcement use racial and ethnic profiling as a tool to fight crime and terrorism?

Frederick Schauer strives to analyze and resolve these prickly questions. When the law "thinks like an actuary"--makes decisions about groups based on averages--the public benefit can be enormous. On the other hand, profiling and stereotyping may lead to injustice. And many stereotypes are self-fulfilling, while others are simply spurious. How, then, can we decide which stereotypes are accurate, which are distortions, which can be applied fairly, and which will result in unfair stigmatization?

These decisions must rely not only on statistical and empirical accuracy, but also on morality. Even statistically sound generalizations may sometimes have to yield to the demands of justice. But broad judgments are not always or even usually immoral, and we should not always dismiss them because of an instinctive aversion to stereotypes. As Schauer argues, there is good profiling and bad profiling. If we can effectively determine which is which, we stand to gain, not lose, a measure of justice.

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Editorial Reviews

Weekly Standard

Rather than indulge recriminations about racism or simple-minded nostrums about public safety, Schauer has shown that a society ruled by laws needs to make generalizations and, yes, create profiles.
— Eli Lehrer

London Review of Books

As Frederick Schauer argues in his excellent book, though we are right to suspect that all general rules are discriminatory, we are wrong to suppose that it is therefore better to trust individuals. This is because no individual is truly capable of judging each case on its merits; individuals simply bring their own personal generalisations to bear on the case in question...Schauer suggests that we should all toughen up about stereotyping, accept it as an inevitable fact of life, and instead of trying to avoid it, concentrate on coming up with the best stereotypes we can.
— David Runciman

Federal Lawyer

In an era in which profiling, stereotyping, and generalizing are suspect Frederick Schauer's Profiles, Probabilities, and Stereotypes is a frank, in-depth look at the justifications for such practices. Schauer takes an unpopular stance in supporting the use of generalization over particularization, opening the reader's eyes to the fact that society operates on multiple levels by the widespread use of generalization…Schauer addresses the intriguing question of why we find some generalizations acceptable and others morally outrageous…Schauer skillfully develops his thesis that the outcomes of applying general rules are often preferable to those that would result from applying a rule's rationale individually in each case. Profiles, Probabilities, and Stereotypes faces controversial issues with aplomb and will capture any reader interested in how fairness, equality, morality, stability, and community are interrelated.
— Melanie Kilpatrick

Sanford Levinson
This book is a joy to read. Schauer makes an important argument with real brio, and uses wonderful examples. The book is a ringing and, I believe, wholly successful attack on those who are suspicious of generalizations and who therefore call for ever-greater 'individualized,' highly contextual decision-making.
Kent Greenawalt
Schauer argues convincingly that generalizations are pervasive in judgment, among other things connecting the subject of generalizations to reliance on probabilistic data in civil trials. He does an excellent job of showing why many generalizations create no problem of injustice (including some that are claimed to be unjust) and of explaining why a limited number of nonspurious generalizations might nevertheless be thought unjust and should be avoided.
Amy Gutmann
With admirable clarity and fair-mindedness, Frederick Schauer tackles timely issues of racial profiling, minimum voting and drinking ages, mandatory retirement, military exclusions based on gender and sexual orientation, and sentencing guidelines. He demonstrates that nothing less than social justice and stability is at stake in our ability to distinguish between different kinds of legal generalities. Profiles, Probabilities, and Stereotypes is full of intriguing examples and illuminating arguments, which together will make it a most welcome guide for concerned lawmakers and citizens alike.
Michael Ignatieff
If you've asked yourself whether it is fair to single out ethnic groups for profiling at airports, whether it's right to retire pilots just because they turn 60, or whether it's ever fair to bar women from certain professions, Frederick Schauer's book will be essential reading. It is a profound and incisive guide to the contested zone of public policy where justice, fairness, and equality conflict.
Weekly Standard - Eli Lehrer
Rather than indulge recriminations about racism or simple-minded nostrums about public safety, Schauer has shown that a society ruled by laws needs to make generalizations and, yes, create profiles.
London Review of Books - David Runciman
As Frederick Schauer argues in his excellent book, though we are right to suspect that all general rules are discriminatory, we are wrong to suppose that it is therefore better to trust individuals. This is because no individual is truly capable of judging each case on its merits; individuals simply bring their own personal generalisations to bear on the case in question...Schauer suggests that we should all toughen up about stereotyping, accept it as an inevitable fact of life, and instead of trying to avoid it, concentrate on coming up with the best stereotypes we can.
Federal Lawyer - Melanie Kilpatrick
In an era in which profiling, stereotyping, and generalizing are suspect Frederick Schauer's Profiles, Probabilities, and Stereotypes is a frank, in-depth look at the justifications for such practices. Schauer takes an unpopular stance in supporting the use of generalization over particularization, opening the reader's eyes to the fact that society operates on multiple levels by the widespread use of generalization…Schauer addresses the intriguing question of why we find some generalizations acceptable and others morally outrageous…Schauer skillfully develops his thesis that the outcomes of applying general rules are often preferable to those that would result from applying a rule's rationale individually in each case. Profiles, Probabilities, and Stereotypes faces controversial issues with aplomb and will capture any reader interested in how fairness, equality, morality, stability, and community are interrelated.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674021181
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2006
  • Edition description: ANN
  • Pages: 388
  • Product dimensions: 0.86 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Frederick Schauer is David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law.
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Table of Contents

Preface

Introduction: Painting with a Broad Brush

1. In Training with the Greeks

2. Pit Bulls, Golden Retrievers, and Other Dangerous Dogs

3. A Ride on the Blue Bus

4. Eighty-Year-Old Pilots and Twelve-Year-Old Voters

5. The Women of the Virginia Military Institute

6. The Profilers

7. The Usual Suspects

8. Two Cheers for Procrustes

9. Ships with Altered Names

10. The Generality of Law

11. Generality, Community, and the Wars of the Roqueforts

Coda: From the Justice of Generality to the Generality of Justice

Notes

Index

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  • Posted September 27, 2011

    Prof. Schauer interview

    University of Virginia's Professor Frederick Schauer also appears on the Charlottesville, VA, interview program Politics Matters with host and producer Jan Madeleine Paynter to discuss the constitution: politicsmatters dot org

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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