Prejudice Made Plausible

“Without the aid of prejudice and custom, I should not

be able to find my way across the room.”

—William Hazlitt

The “prejudice against prejudice,” as Theodore Dalrymple ironically terms it, has become so culturally pervasive that many—perhaps most—people are completely unaware that the term has not always been exclusively pejorative.  The Latin prejudicare, in its primary sense, meant simply to “judge or rule beforehand” (as in a legal proceeding), though it could also signify an injurious action.  Eric Partridge, in his etymological dictionary Origins, cites Tertullian as an early example of one who employed the term in this latter sense.  Moreover, it is also true that the OED’s citations, dating back to the 13th century, are weighted heavily on the side of injury or “hasty judgement.”  Yet in its most inclusive meaning (most relevant for present purposes), prejudice is simply “a feeling, favorable or unfavorable, toward any person or thing, prior to [sic] or not based on actual experience; . . . an unreasoning predilection or objection” (OED).  Please note that “unreasoning” need not in itself imply anything malicious or hurtful.  I have a...

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