Laws have been enacted to protect people who are discriminated and to fight against unfairness and injustice (ABA, 2016); however, implicit bias poses a special challenge for anti-discrimination law because it suggests the possibility that people are treating others differently even when they are unaware that they are doing so (Jolls & Sunstein, 2006). This means that people may disobey anti-discrimination laws but without awareness or intent. For example, supervisors in military may unconsciously treat subordinates differently in performance appraisal based on race, gender, or nationality. In this situation, supervisors don’t break the anti-discrimination laws; it is a problem of ethics.
There are five sources of ethical standards: the utilitarian approach, the right approach, the fairness or justice approach, the common good approach, and the virtue approach (SCU, 2015). Usually from the perspective of ethics, the fairness and justice approach and virtue approach are used to address implicit bias (Rees, 2016).
Justice means giving each person what he or she deserves. In the framework of the fairness and justice approach, the implicit bias means the person who is discriminated is not given what he or she deserves. In the case of personnel evaluations, the person’s performance is rated lower than what he or she deserves; in the case of promotion, the person’s opportunity of getting promoted is lower than what he or she deserves; in the case of job assignment, the person is assigned to the job that requires lower ability than he or she can complete, and so on. In all these cases, the victims of unconscious bias in the military are treated different even though they are equal to others relevant to the situation in which they are involved. From the discussion in the previous sections, the manifestation of the unconscious bias is not limited to gender, ethnic, racial or religious differences, but also includes different work-ethic and style. So, the implicit bias in the military demonstrates an ethical problem of justice in the military.
We can also address unconscious bias from the virtue approach of ethics. Virtue is a fundamental component of ethics. Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control, and prudence are all examples of virtues (Velasquez, 1988). Virtues are not inherent in a person; conversely, virtues are developed through learning and through practice. After virtues are developed, virtues are habits.
Generosity is the quality of being kind and generous, and if a person develops the virtue of generosity he or she is kind to others and easily forgive others. Fairness is often an alternative term of justice. If a person develops the virtue of fairness, he or she often treats others fairly. So even though the person has bias against someone for a short period of time, he or she will adjust his or her recognition by reorganizing and reprocessing the information to eliminate the bias because the virtues are habits. We may argue that a person doesn’t developed the virtues of fairness and generosity if the person keeps treating people different even though they behave the same in those are relevant to the situation. We may say that a person does not develop the virtues of generosity and fairness because of his or her implicit bias in military.
A person’s virtue is not developed in isolation, but within the communities to which he or she belongs. So, a person in military doesn’t develop the virtues means that it is lacking of climate for developing virtues in military. The implicit bias in the military demonstrates another ethical problem of virtues in the military. The virtue approach points out a way to reduce the phenomena of implicit bias by cultivating environment to train the staffs in military with virtues. After the staffs in military develop the virtues in the military community, we may expect the improved situation of implicit bias in military. But as mentioned in the previous section of root cause, changing the current existing culture is very difficult regardless of the harmfulness of the implicit bias.