Well-Founded Belief and the Contingencies of Epistemic Location

Guy Axtell


A growing number of philosophers are concerned with the epistemic status of culturally nurtured beliefs, beliefs found especially in domains of morals, politics, philosophy, and religion. Plausibly, worries about the deep impact of cultural contingencies on beliefs in these domains of controversial views is a question about well-foundedness: Does it defeat well-foundedness if the agent is rationally convinced that she would take her own reasons for belief as insufficiently well-founded, or would take her own belief as biased, had she been nurtured in a different psychographic community? This paper examines the proper scope and force of this epistemic location problem. It sketches an account of well and ill-founded nurtured belief based upon doxastic strategies involving low to high degrees of inductive risk: the moral and epistemic risk of ‘getting it wrong’ in an inductive context of inquiry.



Can Humility be a Liberatory Virtue?

Heather Battaly, University of Connecticut


Humility is an unlikely candidate for liberatory virtue. It seems to be the last thing that could help an oppressed person, since humility in interacting with one’s oppressors arguably reinforces and sustains, rather than subverts, one’s oppression. In short, humility seems to be a better candidate for liberatory vice than liberatory virtue. My chief aim is to explore whether this view is correct. Is humility a liberatory vice for oppressed persons, or is there space for it to be a liberatory virtue? The paper ultimately argues that humility can be a liberatory virtue for oppressed persons. The first section uses feminist virtue theory to sketch an analysis of liberatory virtue. Section two endorses the notion of humility as limitations-owning, distinguishing the virtue of humility from the virtue of pride and both of these from servility and arrogance (Whitcomb et al 2017). It then explores what is needed to convert this notion of humility into a liberatory virtue. The third section evaluates the trail-blazing arguments of Vrinda Dalmiya (2016) and Robin Dillon (in press). Both warn against treating humility as a virtue for the oppressed in interactions with oppressors. I explore whether there might, nevertheless, be a need for such humility.



Secrets and Social Epistemology

Kelly Becker, University of New Mexico


In the 1984 follow-up to her book on lying, Sissela Bok offers a wide-ranging discussion of the inherently fascinating topics of secrets.  Her focus is primarily on the ethics of keeping and revealing secrets, with applications to science, industry, trade, and government, among others.  In this exploratory paper, I aim to continue Bok’s line of inquiry with focus on recent movements in epistemology.  I begin by sketching some epistemological and moral implications of and distinctions between having, owning, keeping, and revealing secrets, and I then attempt to bring the phenomena of secrets and secret-keeping into two conversations of current interest in social epistemology—on testimony and on epistemic (especially hermeneutical) injustice.



Reliabilism, Reasons, and Defeat

Bob Beddor, National University of Singapore


Reliabilists have a problem with defeat. There are cases where an agent reliably forms a belief and yet the agent has good reason to think the belief is false or unreliably formed. In such cases, the belief is not ultima facie justified. This talk develops a solution on the reliabilist’s behalf, which involves integrating reliabilism with a ‘reasons first’ approach to justification.  On the synthesis proposed here, justification is understood in terms of an agent’s reasons for belief, which are in turn analyzed along reliabilist lines:  an agent’s reasons for belief are the states that serve as inputs to their reliable processes. I argue that this ‘Reasons First Reliabilism’ provides a satisfactory account of epistemic defeat, while still preserving the main benefits of a reliabilist epistemology.



Intersectionality, Modality, and Structural Oppression

Nora Berenstain, University of Tennessee-Knoxville


Intersectionality, while often presented as a theory of identities, is primarily a theory of structure. Structures of oppression interlock, overlap, and co-create one another. The notion of a modal profile, used in metaphysics of science, can help frame how interlocking structures of oppression function, replicate, and make certain outcomes more or less probable. To illustrate this concept’s applicability in the domain of social structure, I analyze how the modal profiles of interlocking structures of oppression can shed light on structural barriers to securing a sentence less than death in capital cases. I look at two case studies of obstacles for capital defenders in narrative storytelling and jury deliberation. The first is the public imaginary of paranoid schizophrenia at the intersection of racism and ableism, and the second is the predictable effects of race and gender on the persuasive use of emotional expression in jury deliberation. I close by emphasizing what an intersectional analysis does and does not do.



Epistemology and the Con: Why People Reason Badly About Important Things

Michael Bishop, University of Florida


A ‘con’ or ‘confidence game’ is a situation designed so that the apparently reasonable beliefs and decisions of the victim (or mark) lead to certain loss. The con artist relies on mechanisms of deception: techniques designed to manipulate you into coming to beliefs that are reasonable given your evidence, but that, when acted upon, benefit the con artist. Our current epistemological environment is full of epistemic cons. By using various forms of deception, epistemic cons lead their marks to adopt beliefs that fit with their (perhaps one-sided) evidence, that cohere with the rest of their (perhaps biased) beliefs, and that flow reasonably from their (perhaps manipulated) perceptual beliefs. The evil demon runs a powerful epistemic con.


What’s the most useful epistemological framework for a person beset by epistemic con games? What framework, when applied, is most effective at keeping us from becoming epistemic marks? I will offer some preliminary evidence for thinking that the best way to avoid the con is with a theory of rationality – a theory that evaluates reasoning strategies. Follow the recommendations of a theory of justified belief or of epistemic virtue, and they won’t keep you from being played for a sucker. The theory on offer evaluates a reasoning strategy in terms of its (a) tendency to generate an accurate representation of the world, (b) applicability to significant problems, and (c) ease of use.


I will report on a study that shows that when this view of good reasoning is applied, it generates dramatic and (reasonably) long-lasting improvements in how people think about the world. In particular, it can help you to avoid five types of (sometimes costly) reasoning errors – some of which are the stock-in-trade of the con artist.

(1) Inferring causation from correlation

(2) Regression neglect

(3) Violating the sunk cost principle

(4) Violating the opportunity cost principle

(5) Gambler’s fallacy

(Note: two of these are errors of practical reason.) This pragmatic argument has obvious limitations. But I will suggest that a theory with this much pragmatic power has captured something important about its subject.



Independence, Conciliation, and the Problem of Political Passions

David Christensen, Brown University


We often get “higher-order” evidence—particularly from the disagreement of other people—that casts doubt on the reliability of some of our own reasoning. The rational response to such evidence would seem to depend on how reliable one should estimate one’s own reasoning to be, in light of that evidence. “Independence” principles constrain this reliability-assessment, to prevent question-begging reliance on the very reasoning being assessed. Extant formulations of Independence principles tend to be vague or ambiguous; and coming up with a tolerably precise formulation turns out to be tricky. One of the biggest difficulties becomes particularly pressing—for both practical and theoretical reasons—when one tries to apply Independence principles to passionate political disagreements.



Liberal democracy, media and epistemic reliability

Stefano Colloca, University of Pavia, Italy


We can distinguish between at least three types of epistemic sources in the media: source as a person (journalists, experts), source as a social process (collective intelligence initiatives), source as a social event (public debates). For each of these types of mediatic sources in a liberal democracy, the paper will investigate (i) what are the features that make a source reliable and (ii) how the relationship between the value of reliability and the value of freedom of speech sould be conceived.



On Testimonial Knowledge and Its Functions

Michel Croce, University of Edinburgh


In recent work, John Greco has framed the problem of acquiring knowledge via testimony in terms of a dilemma, according to which any theory must make testimonial knowledge either too hard or too easy, and therefore no adequate account of testimonial knowledge is possible. As a way out of the dilemma, Greco offers an account that appeals to Edward Craig’s functionalist approach and distinguishes between two main functions of the concept of knowledge, namely that of introducing new information in an epistemic community and that of distributing available information to the community members. In this paper, I argue that Greco’s functionalist account is flawed, in that it fails to accommodate ordinary cases of testimonial knowledge. In response, I show that anti-reductionism has all the necessary resources to provide a diagnosis of ordinary cases that meets Greco’s demands without appealing to Craigean functionalism.



Machine Learning as Morally Analogous to Group Belief

Joe Cruz, Williams College, Department of Philosophy and Program in Cognitive Science


Machine learning (ML) is at the heart of current approaches to artificial intelligence, and it is widely familiar that ML techniques are used in a range of specialized, proto-AI applications ranging from consumer loan decisions to recidivism prediction to autonomous vehicle control. Decisions driven by ML in some of these contexts is thought to be morally objectionable because the way that patterns are extracted from data can be intractably opaque. In many cases, neither the programmers nor the users of the output will understand how the algorithm came to generate its output. These sorts of worries are part of a more general concern over the ethics of AI.


In this paper I focus on whether opaque AI algorithms are meaningfully morally different from decision making in human beings. Moral intuitions expect that a decision maker is able to give an account of how they came to their decision. The sense that the decider’s reasons are transparent—or reasonably could be—addresses a certain sort of moral concern over the process of making the decision (even if the decision itself is subject to further scrutiny). This seems like a difference between human decision making and ML output. I argue, however, that group belief is importantly similar to the way that ML realizes it output. If I am right, ML should be no more morally suspicious—at least in reference to the opacity of the process—than conclusions that are the result of distributed efforts between cognizers where no one has ready internal access to the grounds for the group belief. I conclude by speculating that, when artificial general intelligence is attained, our moral expectations on AI decisions will come more into line with our expectations regarding individuals rather than groups.



Privacy and Corporate Knowledge

Ken Daley and Robert J. Howell, Southern Methodist University


Why do some violations of privacy seem to matter more than others even when they concern the same facts?  We tend to care more about a peeping Tom than we do about someone inferring our private behavior based on impersonal knowledge.  We also seem to be more concerned about individual people knowing our private information than we are corporations possessing the same knowledge.  What explains these differences?  We argue that while our sense of violation is tied to the unsettling experience of being objectified, the actual harms caused by violations of privacy depend on the threat the violation poses to the agent’s control over her self-presentation.  If so, we should care a lot more about corporate violations of privacy than our typical reactions lead us to believe.



Secondhand Disagreement

Jeroen de Ridder, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Most of the disagreement literature has focused on highly idealized cases of disputes between epistemic peers. In this, paper I explore a non-idealized and highly prevalent kind of disagreement, which I take to be of relevance to our contemporary political situation. I present my thoughts in the form of a puzzle that takes the form of a set of independently plausible but jointly inconsistent theses. Let PMR beliefs stand for political, moral, or religious beliefs:


  1. Many people have a significant number of secondhand PMR beliefs.
  2. Secondhand beliefs rationally ought to be epistemically fragile in the face of peer disagreement.
  3. PMR disagreements are among the most entrenched and intractable disagreements, that is, people’s PMR beliefs aren’t epistemically fragile in the face of peer disagreement.
  4. People’s PMR beliefs are not massively irrational.


I’ll specify each thesis in more detail and offer reasons for thinking it plausible. Then, I will explore a number of possible solutions to the puzzle and lay out my preferred solution.



What is Epistemic Self-Trust?

Katherine Dormandy, University of Innsbruck


What is epistemic self-trust? There is an important tension in the way in which prominent accounts answer this question. On the one hand, many construe epistemic trust as a normatively laden attitude directed at persons whom we expect to respond to our epistemic needs. On the other hand, many accounts (often the same ones) talk of epistemic self-trust as no more than reliance on our sub-personal cognitive faculties. How should this tension be resolved? We certainly do rely on our cognitive faculties – but I argue that there is a theoretical need for positing the normatively rich form of epistemic self-trust, directed at oneself qua person: this form of epistemic self-trust yields the best account of how we secure important epistemic goods.



The Mark of a Good Informant

Catherine Elgin, Harvard University


Edward Craig argued that the concept of knowledge arises from our collective need to identify reliable informants.  We need a public mark to identify informants whose word we can safely take.  Recently, Michael Hannon developed and extended Craig’s view.  I argue that the position that emerges promotes testimonial injustice, since the public mark of a good informant need not be one that all knowers of a given fact share.  I suggest a way the problem might be alleviated.



Individual Coherence and Group Coherence

Branden Fitelson (with Ray Briggs, Kenny Easwaran, and Fabrizio Cariani)


Paradoxes of individual coherence(e.g.,the preface paradox forindividual judgment) and group coherence (e.g., the doctrinal paradox for judgment aggregation) typically presuppose that deductive consistency is a coherence requirement for both individual and group judgment. In this paper, we introduce a new (more permissive) coherence requirement for (individual) full belief, and we explain how this new approach to individual coherence leads to an amelioration of the traditional paradoxes. In particular, we explain why our new coherence requirement gets around the standard doctrinal paradox. However, we also prove a new impossibility result, which reveals that (more complex) varieties of the doctrinal paradox can arise even for our new (more permissive) notion of coherence.



Philosophical Expertise and Philosophical Progress

Bryan Frances, University of Tartu, Estonia


I first argue that one component of philosophical expertise is propositional knowledge had almost exclusively by philosophers. This knowledge falls into three categories. Using those results, I then argue for certain kinds of philosophical progress. Finally, I attempt to articulate the truth that the deniers of philosophical progress are latching on to.



Trust and Testimonial Justification

Elizabeth Fricker, Magdalen College, Oxford and University of Notre Dame


The word ‘trust’ is used in many contexts, and it is implausible that there is a single conception that fits all of these. One use is that it is natural to say, when a recipient of testimony accepts as true what a speaker tells her, forming belief on her say-so, that the recipient trusts the speaker regarding her testimony. I develop an account of trust-based reliance on an occasion that vindicates this natural usage. My account of trust-based reliance is thin, in that someone can be trusted without being aware that this is so. Correlatively, on my account, the basis for belief in what is told that is available to the addressee of a telling is no less available in principle to others who are not addressed, but merely overhear and correctly understand what is told. I contrast my account of the epistemology of testimony, and the thin notion of trust that fits it, with an alternative account that invokes a thicker notion: reciprocal trust. Reciprocal trust entails mutual awareness of their trusting relation between truster and trustee, since the mechanism ensuring the trustee will fulfil the trust placed in her is trust responsiveness. Reciprocal trust can be betrayed, not merely disappointed. This suggests that norms of trust arise between the two parties of reciprocal trust: a norm to be trusting in response to the invitation to trust, and to be trustworthy in response to the other’s trusting reliance. I explore how these norms of trust, together with a non-doxastic account of the attitude to the trustee’s trustworthiness on the part of the truster, make visible the possibility of an epistemology of testimony that includes second-personal reasons to trust a speaker’s testimony, ones that hold only for the addressee. I reject such an account; but I observe that the issue is unlikely to be resolved quickly, since it turns on a wider, much-debated matter: whether there can be pragmatic, nontruth-related reasons for belief.



Perceptual experiences, stereotypes, and justification

Martina Fürst, University of Graz


According to phenomenal conservatism, perceptual experiences provide prima facie justification for beliefs based upon them. Bad cases in which the perceptual experience has been cognitively penetrated, for instance, by an unjustified belief challenge phenomenal conservatism. To deal with this challenge, some philosophers (e.g. Brogaard, Chudnoff, McGrath, Siegel) defend versions of restricted conservatism that impose a further condition on experience to be justificatory powerful.


In this paper, I investigate bad cases in which the experience has been influenced by stereotypes. First, I argue that these cases are particularly challenging, since an experience can be influenced by the exposure to stereotype representations in our cultural environment, even if the subject explicitly disavows the corresponding stereotype belief. Versions of etiologically restricted conservatism that emphasize an unjustified or irrational cognitive state as the bad source of the experience cannot easily accommodate such cases. Second, I propose a new version of restricted conservatism that focuses on the phenomenology of the target experience rather than on its etiology. Finally, I argue that the view defended is explanatorily more powerful than extant accounts since it covers a wider range of bad cases.



She Said He Said: Sexual Assault Accusations and the Preponderance of the Evidence

Georgi Gardiner, St. John’s College, Oxford and University of Tennessee


Legal standards of proof are epistemic thresholds that must be met for institutions to impose sanctions on individuals accused of misconduct. The preponderance of the evidence standard, also known as the ‘balance of probabilities’ standard, currently governs Title IX proceedings for sexual misconduct hearings in educational institutions in the US: For the institution to properly formally punish the accused, the misconduct must first be established to a preponderance of the evidence.


I articulate four claims that enjoy initial plausibility. But, I argue, the claims jointly support the view that the preponderance of the evidence standard is not sufficiently demanding to govern Title IX proceedings. The four claims are: (1.) The ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard is satisfied if the evidential balance supports the relevant proposition. (2.) In strict ‘she-said-he-said’ situations, given the evidence typically available, she is more likely to be telling the truth. (3.) Finding an individual culpable of at least some kinds of sexual misconduct warrants significant consequences, such as expulsion or termination of employment. (4.) Significant consequences, such as expulsion or termination of employment, are not legitimized by one-on-one conflicting testimony where there is no specific reason to suspect one party or the other lacks credibility.


Claims (1.) through (4.) thus constitute, I argue, a liberal feminist argument for the conclusion that the preponderance of the evidence standard is too low to govern Title IX proceedings. Advocates of the current standard for Title IX proceedings—and I count myself among them—must deny at least one of the four claims.



Normative Defeaters

Peter Graham, University of California Riverside


What, exactly, are normative defeaters? I’ll argue defeaters are relative to epistemic kind, and then given the kind, there may be no normative defeaters, or they may play only a restricted role. I’ll target, in particular, work from Lackey and from Goldberg.



Developing Robust Epistemic Trust Relations: Negotiating Social and Epistemic Power

Heidi Grasswick, Middlebury College


One of the major themes of social epistemology is that the human epistemic condition is one of deep epistemic dependence. Each of us is dependent on other inquirers as epistemic sources, as well as dependent on the epistemic and interpretative frameworks available to us through our communities’ epistemic practices. Among others, feminists have argued that one of the ramifications of this state of epistemic interdependence is that power-infused social relations necessarily play a role in many forms of inquiry and affect our capacities as epistemic agents engaged in social practices of inquiry. For example, the vast literature analyzing forms of epistemic injustice (Dotson 2011, Fricker 2007, Medina 2013, Pohlhaus 2012) demonstrates the variety of ways in which one’s epistemic agency is enabled or disabled depending on the degree to which one’s social identity brings with it appropriate assumptions of credibility necessary for appropriate uptake within an epistemic community, and the degree to which specific conceptual tools are available within an epistemic community for particular forms of knowledge to be developed. While it would seem from these analyses that much of our epistemic power is dependent upon our degree of social power, I argue that this relationship is actually quite complicated; as noted by others, the social power of privilege also brings with it significant epistemic deficits and challenges (Medina 2013, Mills 2007).


It is clear that epistemic agents need to be able to negotiate across and through power-infused social relations if they are to be able to know well in a social world. We cannot ignore or side-step the social features of these relations. I argue that employing a framework of robust epistemic trust relations can be helpful in understanding how knowledge can be produced and circulated across different social positions. Though trust relations can be exploitative and epistemically detrimental, morally healthy and robust relations of epistemic trust are an important tool for inquirers who seek to live epistemically responsible lives. Such robust relations of trust are crucial in situations where the epistemic stakes of getting things right are high, and the kind of understanding sought is crucial to one’s well-being.




Fake News: The Case for a Consumer-Oriented Explication

Thomas Grundmann, University of Cologne


Our current understanding of ‘fake news’ is not in good shape. On the one hand, this category seems to be urgently needed for an adequate understanding of social epistemology in the age of the internet. On the other hand, the term has an unstable ordinary meaning (see Habgood-Coote forthcoming) and the prevalent accounts (e.g., Gelfert 2018, Mukerij 2018, Jaster & Lanius 2018) which all relate fake news to epistemically bad attitudes of the producer lack theoretical unity, sufficient extensional adequacy, and epistemic fruitfulness. I will therefore suggest an alternative account of fake news that is meant as an explication rather than a traditional conceptual analysis of the term and understands fake news from the consumer’s perspective. I will argue that this new account has the required theoretical unity, that it is epistemically highly fruitful, and that it is still very close to the ordinary usage. I conclude with addressing some of the main objections to this view.



Empathetic Understanding and Deliberative Democracy 

Michael Hannon, University of Nottingham


Epistemic democracy is standardly characterized in terms of “aiming at truth”. This presupposes a veritistic conception of epistemic value according to which truth is the fundamental epistemic goal. I will raise two objections to the standard (veritistic) account of epistemic democracy, focusing specifically on deliberative democracy. I then propose a version of deliberative democracy that is grounded in non-veritistic epistemic goals. In particular, I argue that deliberation is valuable because it facilitates empathetic understanding. I claim that empathetic understanding is an epistemic good that doesn’t have truth as its primary goal.



Testimony in African Epistemology Revisited

Mikael Janvid, Stockholm University


This paper readdresses important epistemological issues raised by Barry Hallen and J. Olubi Sodipo’s pioneering philosophical fieldwork among Yoruba herbalists or masters of medicine (onisegun). More precisely, I shall primarily investigate, as well as object to, the unduly restrictive view they take on testimony in Yoruba epistemic practice. With this criticism as the starting point, I explore different ways in which an “oral culture” like the Yoruba (as traditionally depicted) can rely on testimony as a source of justification without succumbing to the gullible and uncritical attitude towards tradition such societies have been charged with. To this purpose I put to use relevant developments within analytic epistemology taking place after Hallen and Sodipo published their work. I suggest that imposing a “no defeater-condition” properly introduced can strike the right balance between naïve trust and overcritical destructive suspicion.



The Etiology Thesis and the Project of Naturalizing Epistemology

Mark Kaplan, Indiana University


P is true. You believe that P. And you have a decisive argument for P. Can you, by virtue of that alone, count as knowing that P? The Etiology Thesis says “No”. It says that you cannot count as knowing that P by virtue of an argument you have in P’s favor unless (in addition) your possessing that argument is causally responsible for your believing that P. The Etiology Thesis is an important one: it has played a crucial role in motivating the project of naturalizing epistemology—a project that has sought to effect a fundamental transformation in the way epistemology is practiced. But I will be arguing that the Etiology Thesis is mistaken: there are features of the way we conduct ordinary and scientific inquiry of which the Etiology Thesis simply cannot make any sense. It is a result that, I will suggest, tells us something important about the extent to which epistemology can be naturalized.



Epistemic Dimensions of Environmental (In)Justice

Jason Kawall, Colgate University


Empirical research suggests that our physical environment has striking impacts upon our cognitive development and performance. Studies show that excessive noise, heat, proximity to highways, and other factors have severe detrimental impacts on cognition. Globally, impoverished and marginalized communities face these issues disproportionately. I begin by providing a brief overview of relevant recent empirical work, and argue that the issues raised ought to be of significant interest to epistemologists. To produce better epistemic agents, and to improve epistemic performance in particular instances, we will often be as wise to improve an agent’s physical environment at to attempt to improve the epistemic faculties of the agent herself. I next consider how a focus on physical environments might help us to develop virtue epistemologies, particularly in response to certain situationist challenges. This work may also help to reveal a potential disanalogy between moral and epistemic virtues. Finally, I consider a variety of objections to the proposals developed in the paper.



How to Handle Gettier Cases: Luck vs. Risk

Christoph Kelp (with Matt Jope), University of Glasgow



The Presumed Rationality of Political Ignorance

Friderik Klampfer, University of Maribor


If media pundits are to be believed, we are increasingly witnessing a curious, though by no means new, phenomenon in Western democracies, of people voting against their own (individual or collective) self-interests. Empirical research seems to corroborate our worst suspicions – most voters are rather ignorant of disputed political issues, leaving their electoral choices uninformed and governed by hunch and whim, not careful deliberation and considered judgment.

In the paper, I subject to criticism the so-called thesis/theory of Rational Irrationality, or RI. According to RI, it is often practically rational, i.e. in our individual self-interest, to be epistemically irrational; with regard to political matters in particular, we are being told by an increasing number of philosophers and political scientists that ignorance is bliss – since the costs of mistaken political beliefs that any single individual (citizen, voter) personally bears are relatively small compared to the costs for him or her of acquiring true, or justified, political beliefs, it’s not really worth trying to correct them.

Contrary to RI, I argue that (i) political ignorance is rarely, if ever, rationally justified all things considered; (ii) insofar as being ignorant of political issues is prudentially rational at all, its rationality is conditional on the existent, truth-indifferent or even truth-inimical structure of incentives; and (iii) the improvement of our currently deficient epistemic practices will require both fostering individual epistemic virtues and redesigning the way we do politics and communicate about it in our less than epistemically ideal social world.

I’ll close my paper by briefly discussing some normative implications, in particular whether we should take the presumed irrationality of voting behavior as evidence that democracy, the rule of the (ignorant) many, is flawed beyond repair and so should be replaced with a Platonian type of epistocracy, the rule of the (knowledgeable) few. The solution to the problem of epistemic deficiency of democracy is, once again, or so I’ll argue, not less democracy, but more epistemic and civic empowerment.



Two Kinds of Epistemic Evaluation

Hilary Kornblith, University of Massachusetts-Amherst


Our opinions, some have argued, should be sensitive to the opinions of epistemically well-placed others.  As concilliationists would have it, when we discover that our epistemic peers see things differently than we do, we should adjust our opinions in the direction of those peers.  This is not uncontroversial, but let us take it as given.

Within a scientific community, it is a good thing that there is a certain amount of distribution of opinion about competing scientific theories.  It is a good thing to have different investigators pursuing competing theories—trying to test them, elaborate them, see how best to make use of them to explain a variety of phenomena—and, for a number of reasons, this pursuit is most effectively accomplished when these investigators believe the various theories which are in competition with one another.  This too is not uncontroversial, but let us take it as given as well.

How well do these two ideas comport with one another?  Are they compatible or incompatible?  Are these ideas the product of two different kinds of epistemic evaluation, or is one or both of these ideas the product of a kind of evaluation which, although it has to do with our beliefs and their connection with truth, is not properly viewed as epistemic?  This paper will address these questions.



An Encoding Model of Action-Directed-Pragmatics

Igal Kvart, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


I present formal Pragmatics for a domain in Pragmatics that I call Action-Directed Pragmatics, which focuses on the Pragmatic riddle of how implicit contents are conveyed and understood, by adopting a coding model, in which the speaker and the addressee simulate each other iteratively. The implicit content in such cases consists in the specified action that is alluded to (or steered towards), plus modulations on the action-polarity (pro or con) and the degree of the so-called Steering Thrust that accompanies such assertions and is conveyed by verbal locutions, intonation, or bodily and facial gestures.

There are two main tasks to model (in a given setup and a conversational context): First, how is the speaker, with an action (that she has in mind for the addressee to perform, and a Steering Thrust), to select an assertion so as to optimize/satisfice the successful transmission of its implicit content (and its successful decoding by her addressee)? Second, how is the addressee, given an assertion by the speaker, to decipher the implicit content conveyed via it? Both will invoke pertinent information they have about each other and the setup/context in order to best encode and best decode the implicit content.

A prelude to this formal Pragmatics is a general formal Pragmatic account of Sayability (i.e., roughly, what is appropriate to say, or assert) in contexts that are multi-normative (which is the common case). I will focus here only on Epistemic and Instrumental Norms.

An important component of the dynamics of speaker/actor embedded (iterative) epistemic assessment is of the pertinent competence and caring of the speaker by her addressee (actor).




Reliability, Defeat, and Social Factors

Jack Lyons, University of Arkansas


Reliabilist theories of justification are sometimes criticized with the charge that defeat, the bridge between prima facie and ultima facie justification, is an essentially evidentialist consideration, which the reliabilist doesn’t have a right to and which isn’t obviously amenable to a reliabilist explication. Against this, I argue that reliabilism has available to it not only an account of defeat that fits very naturally into the standard reliabilist framework, but one that is thereby able to account for a range of cases of defeat that evidentialist views are unable to countenance, in particular, cases where justification is defeated in virtue of social factors.



On Social Defeat

Brent Madison, United Arab Emirates University


Traditionally, different kinds of defeaters have been distinguished, each individuated in terms of how they defeat: in term of being believed, in terms of being what the subject should believe, and in terms of being true.  This corresponds to the traditional three-way distinction between mental state, normative, and factual defeaters. But in addition to these traditional kinds of defeaters, are there also social defeaters? Cases have been provided (e.g. by Harman; Pollock; Meeker; Goldberg) that seem to suggest that one can fail to have knowledge because of the social environment, and not because of any standard Gettier-type circumstance.  Alternatively, if there is not a distinct kind of social defeater, is there a uniquely social phenomenon that defeats knowledge?  My aim in this paper is to explore these questions.  I shall argue that despite initial appearances to the contrary, we have no reason to accept a special class of social defeater, nor any essentially social defeat phenomenon.  While justification and knowledge undoubtedly have social dimensions, we have yet to see that there is an inherently social form of defeat.



On Understanding and Testimony

Federica Isabella Malfatti, Leopold Franzens University of Innsbruck


The standard view in the actual literature in social epistemology has it that while knowledge can, given the right conditions, be transmitted via the testimony of others, understanding is very difficult, or even impossible, to pass on. The idea underlying the standard view seems to be that, while the acquisition of testimonial knowledge can be, and very often is, a passive affair, gaining understanding requires significant cognitive work on behalf of the hearer. But if most of the work that needs to be done in order to obtain understanding is performed by the hearer herself, it does not really make sense to say that the understanding she gains is “testimonial” – in the sense of being appropriately based or (epistemically) dependent upon testimony. In this talk, I show that the standard view is only partially right. There is an asymmetry between the acquisition of knowledge and the acquisition of understanding on the basis of testimony. This asymmetry, however, is not due to a difference at the level of the cognitive work required. Gaining testimonial knowledge is sometimes easy, and sometimes hard. The same holds for understanding. Grounding the asymmetry, I will argue, is a difference in the nature of knowledge and understanding. Knowledge can be “local”, or “granular”, understanding usually has a holistic component. One consequence of this for social epistemology is that while knowledge can be acquired merely by expanding or enriching one’s noetic system, this does not suffice for many cases of testimony-based (advancements in) understanding.



Sexual Consent and Lying About One’s Self

Jennifer Matey, Southern Methodist University


In the not so distant past, to be considered sexual assault sexual access to another person must have been obtained by the use of force. But the focus has now shifted to the importance of valid consent. Yet despite the recent acknowledgement of the moral significance of consent there is still much work to be done in determining which specific sexual encounters count as unproblematically consensual. This paper focuses on the impact of deception on sexual consent. It takes up the specific case of deception about one’s self. It may seem obvious that one ought not to lie to a sexual partner about who one is, but determining which features of oneself are most relevant to the consent of one’s partner, as well as the lies which it follows would be impermissible to tell, is quite complicated. I argue that deception about one’s morally valenced character traits, those we think of as virtues and vices, are particularly problematic from the standpoint of consent and I draw attention to a range of types of lies that one ought not to tell.



Thinking with Others: A Radically Externalist Internalism

Benjamin McCraw, University of South Carolina Upstate


This paper is ambitious: it begins with mixing active externalism in philosophy of mind with mentalist internalism in epistemology, and it ends with instructive insights from social and feminist thought. In the first stage, I argue that one can consistently combine two theses that appear, at first glance, incompatible: cognitive externalism—the thesis that one’s mental states/processing can extend past one’s biological boundaries—and mentalism in epistemology—i.e. that epistemic justification supervenes on one’s mental states. This yields the perhaps startling or strange view that the loci of epistemic justification are both mental states and (can be) located externally to one’s skull and skin. I take it that most philosophers would see such a radically externalist internalism as very strange indeed. This motivates the second move: I aim to ease that strangeness by suggesting that most discussions of cognitive externalism and epistemology too often focus exclusively on extending epistemically reliable abilities, faculties, dispositions, etc. to artifacts (e.g. notebooks, computers, etc.) in one’s environment. Instead we should think of this combination as informed by feminist epistemologists’ insistence of our thinking’s irreducible and radical sociality. I am the cognitive agent or self that I am only by virtue of my living with others in an epistemic community. These communities shape and are shaped by our cognition—echoing the dynamic, interactive integration at the heart of cognitive externalism. Thus, just as I am part of an epistemic community, it is also a part of me (literally). Taking all of this seriously means that, when I think in ways extending into the cultural practices in a community, I think with others: not merely as dialogue partners but as constituent elements of my cognition itself; resulting in a robust socially extended internalism.



Epistemic Deadspace: Prisoners, Politics, and Place

Nancy Arden McHugh, Wittenberg University


Epistemic deadspaces are habitats designed to shutdown the ability of inhabitants to generate knowledge about their experiences and to act upon it.  Concurrently, they preclude the ability of people outside to know what and who are inside this habitat. People contained in and by epistemic deadspace are those who make us politically and socially uncomfortable–prisoners, immigrants, Indigenous and First Nations people, whose existence causes social, psychological and epistemological discomfort to those on the outside. Building upon work in epistemic injustice, I describe seven features of epistemic deadspace through the example an overt and destructive enactment of it—US prisons. These features are:

  1. Physical space, a habitat, one that is intended to close or keep others out and hold others in, with or without force.
  2. Functioning through a process of a combination of formal and informal rules that make it appear as if the system has a level of predictable and rational function.
  3. Evidence is weaponized and used as a manipulative tool against those who are disempowered, wielded by those with power.
  4. Habitats in which radical epistemic suspicion is rife and is contingent upon power asymmetries.
  5. The embodiment of epistemic deadspace can be indelibly inked upon bodies because with intent it reshapes body-mind habits and the corporeal body.
  6. Epistemic deadspace is the physical space, the habitat, that houses and is dependent upon epistemic ignorance, epistemic injustice, gaslighting, and epistemic violence for its functioning and maintenance.
  7. Epistemic deadspace is almost always dependent on and enabling of other types of injustices, such as health injustice, environmental injustice, mass incarceration, immigration injustice, injustice related to ability/disability.


These individual features of epistemic deadspace are not unique to it. Other oppressive structures/experiences share some of these features. Instead it is the way these features converge, overlap, and sustain each other that constitutes epistemic deadspace.



Perception, Testimony and Others’ Minds

William McNeill, Southampton University


A very natural and common way of finding out about a person’s mind is to have them tell you what is on their mind. On hearing someone say they’re happy you may come to know that they are happy.

At the same time

(i) on various ways of understanding how testimony delivers knowledge, your knowledge that S is happy presupposes some knowledge of S’s mind (cf. Gomes 2014).

(ii) In order to secure testimonial knowledge of S’s state you need to understand what S’s utterance means. Yet plausibly, knowing what S means in uttering “I am so happy” requires some knowledge of S’s mind.

Here I aim to unpick these dependencies.



Testimonial Injustice Beyond Credibility Deficits

Emily Colleen McWilliams, Harvard University


Concepts that illuminate the ethical dimensions of our epistemic lives help us to see and understand the systematic injustices that inhere in our social epistemic norms, practices, and institutions. The ways that we delimit such concepts thus matters, since it has the power to reveal certain injustices, while obscuring others. One such concept that has gained widespread uptake in the philosophical literature of the past decade is Fricker’s (2007) notion of testimonial injustice, which occurs when a speaker receives an unfair credibility deficit owing to a prejudice on the part of the hearer. This concept has served to illuminate the many ways in which a speaker’s communicative intentions can be thwarted as a result of both individual prejudices, and unfair distributions of collective markers of credibility. Nonetheless, I will argue that this definition covers over other important ways in which epistemic injustice inheres in the social practice of testimony. I therefore make a case that the notion of testimonial injustice that need not be about a loss of credibility.


I argue for this by (1) introducing a kind of coercive silencing that I call testimonial withdraw, which does not operate via a threat to the speaker’s credibility; and, (2) arguing that there are principled reasons to expand our operative definition of testimonial injustice to include testimonial withdraw. More specifically, I draw inspiration from Wanderer (2017) in suggesting that we expand our notion of testimonial injustice to include all phenomena where our grasp of the injustice and the way(s) in which it is distinctly epistemic emerges from an understanding of the social epistemic practice of testimony, broadly construed. This broader notion avoids the danger of circumscribing our definition of testimonial injustice in a way that makes it harder to see and address injustices that fall outside of Fricker’s original purview.



Varieties of Deep Disagreement

Guido Melchior, University of Graz


Deep disagreement gained increasing attention in epistemology in the last years. Intuitively, deep disagreement arises if two parties fail to reach agreement about certain target propositions due to disagreement about fundamental “hinge” propositions and/or framework propositions about rules or conditions of rational argumentation. This paper will clarify two central questions concerning deep disagreement. First, it will elucidate the nature of deep disagreement by providing a taxonomy of various versions of deep disagreement, including deep disagreement relying on disagreement about the reliability of sources, on disagreement about premises of arguments and on disagreement about the rationality (or cogency) of arguments. Second, it provides arguments for why these versions of deep disagreement cannot be resolved via argumentation, which are based on reinterpretations of skeptical arguments.



Political Epistemology: Debating the Burning Issue(s)

Nenad Miščevič, Central European University


Political epistemology is rich with thought experiments. We propose our thought experiment, in fact our preferred version of contractualist ones. Following the contemporary pattern we use some retouch: slightly idealizing the participants, making them reasonable, in Scanlonian tradition.

Then we apply the method to one actual, burning issue, migration and status of migrants, arguing for the view that immigration is a human right. The view is debated in a contractualist imagined discussion between its proponents and opponents, imagined on the basis of actual proposals in the literature and on the actual political scene.



Salience, Prejudice and the Limits of Epistemic Evaluation

Jessie Munton, University of Cambridge


What is the relationship between prejudice and irrationality? Must prejudice always manifest or be constituted by inaccurate beliefs or irrational transitions between beliefs? I argue that certain important forms of prejudice can be wholly constituted by distinctive patterns of weighting within a set of true, rationally formed beliefs. These patterns constitute a salience structure. In this talk I offer a novel framework for modelling these structures, that can both accommodate the importance of ignorance as a form of prejudice, and do justice to the role of social context in sustaining a salience structure in the individual. I then consider what forms of evaluation this kind of structure admits of. I identify three possible axes of evaluation: moral, practical and, most controversially, epistemic.  I argue that these patterns of weighting can be both instrumentally and intrinsically epistemically flawed,  but that norms oriented towards knowledge or accuracy are insufficient to capture the flaws in question.  My answer to the initial question thus has important general epistemic implications.



Reverse-engineering disagreement as evidence in the case of group doxastic agents

Nikolaj Nottelmann, University of Southern Denmark


It has become common-place that under certain conditions, qua groups, groups can maintain and revise beliefs. Also groups can respond to evidence in their processes of belief-formation. This opens the question, which norms govern group belief-revision in the face of new evidence. Not least when and how groups should revise their beliefs in the face of disagreement with other doxastic subjects, be they collective or individual. If ought implies can, any suggested norm here must be such that a group governed by the norm could respond to it. However, this poses a challenge, since groups do not literally have sense organs to perceive conflicting testimony, and also they do not literally seem to have minds with which they can weigh their doxastic reasons. In this talk I discuss, under which conditions, a group can nevertheless be criticized for ignoring testimony conflicting with its beliefs.



The Social Epistemology of Google

Erik Olsson, Lund University


Google’s search engines governs what information millions of people find online every day. Research shows that people rarely go beyond the third search result page when searching for information. Hence, what ends up on those pages will have huge impact on what people believe about society and the world. This is especially true of topics that are to some extent a matter of interpretation or politics. And yet the reliability of Google Search to provide accurate and important information has not been extensively studied and certainly not so by epistemologists. One reason for this is that much of the underlying mechanics of Google is a trade secret not disclosed by the company to outsiders. The talk will focus on two technologies that we do know Google uses: the foundational PageRank algorithm for ranking webpages by popularity (in a peculiar sense of that word) and personalized search whereby different people may get different search results depending on their prior search history (and other online behavior). In the talk, I consider these two aspects of Google from a social-epistemological perspective. I argue, among other things, that PageRank is a reliable way of ranking webpages only in a special sense and that we should expect it to fail to be reliable in many parts of the web.



Eventful Conversations and the Positive Virtues of a Good Listener

Josué Piñeiro and Justin Simpson, University of Georgia


Political solutions to problems like global warming and social justice are regularly stymied by an inability to productively communicate in everyday conversations in the United States of America. Motivated by these communication problems, this paper considers the undertheorized role of the virtuous listener in conversations. Rather than the scripted exchanges of information between individuals, we focus on the lively and dynamic type of conversations that are intralocutional, mediating events. In such conversations, the listener plays a participatory role by contributing to the content and form of the conversation. Unlike Miranda Fricker’s negative virtue of testimonial justice, which neutralizes the listener’s identity-prejudices in their credibility judgments of the speaker’s testimony, we consider the positive virtues of a good listener. These positive virtues enable listeners to productively contribute to the conversation by helping create the fertile epistemic space of a non-adversarial, caring relationship that facilitates critical and creative thinking.



Epistemic Gaslighting and Resistance

Gaile Pohlhaus, Miami University


Recently there has been much concern over the effects of echo-chambering, or the tendency to surround oneself with only like-minded sources of information so that beliefs are amplified and the authority of those beliefs goes unchallenged.  Even further some have expressed a deep disquietude concerning whether such groups might constitute a sort of mob, that would not only suppress but even root out and destroy any form of thinking that does not resonate with the group.  However, is gathering with others who share one’s concerns and interests always a bad thing?  When epistemic institutions and practices are designed in ways that gaslight particular individuals and/or groups of people, it is important for them to find others who can confirm their experiences.  This suggests that gathering with like-minded individuals, and even amplifying beliefs, at least in some instances, is an important practice in resistance to epistemic oppression and injustice.  In this paper, I develop a structural notion of epistemic gaslighting in order to highlight the difference between collective epistemic resistance and the ogre of “mob mentality” it is sometimes accused of being.



Chromatic Illumination in Belief Fixation and Implicit Bias

Matjaž Potrč and Vojko Strahovnik, University of Ljubljana


Much human belief fixation draws heavily on large amounts of morphological content, in order to tractably accommodate the holistic evidential relevance of background information available to the agent. We understand morphological content as information that is implicitly embodied in the standing structure of a cognitive system and gets automatically accommodated during cognitive processing underlying belief fixation, i.e. it is a content that is appreciated without being represented. Even though such epistemically relevant morphological content does not become explicit in consciousness, nevertheless such content does affect the overall character of conscious experience in an epistemically significant way via what we call chromatic illumination. In the talk, we aim to elaborate on the concept of chromatic illumination and point to its epistemic relevance, in particular by framing chromatic illumination as being supervenient on processes involving morphologically operative morphological content. We will also address the question of implicit bias that seems to pose a challenge to the picture of belief fixation we are putting forward in the form of a possibility of morphologically present or embodied biases. Here we will develop several distinctions, acknowledge that morphological content can and does operate in ways not aligned with justification and consider what implications all this has for our overall view.



Public Opinions and Political Philosophy

Simon Rippon (with Miklos Zala)


In this paper, we disagree both with the “cultural relativist” view that the demands of justice are relative to the beliefs and practices that are generally accepted in a given society, and with those political philosophers who think, or who very often at least seem to assume, that it is appropriate develop our normative theories of justice without paying much heed to the views of the ordinary folk. We think that political philosophers need to pay close attention to empirical information about what folk think, and what they experience. More specifically, we think that theorists of justice ought to pay attention not just to what “the public” (as perhaps an imagined, more-or-less homogenous mass) think, but rather to what particular groups of people think and experience. That’s why the title of this paper includes an unusual plural: public opinions rather than public opinion. In this paper, we thus explore the link between, on the one hand, empirical information about what citizens think and experience, and on the other, normative political theory. And we aim to show that political philosophers should take account of empirical information about public opinions. In particular, we argue that political philosophy should take account of empirical information about the opinions and experiences of minority and vulnerable groups. Furthermore, we argue that paying appropriate attention to the opinions of these groups leaves us with both a political and a philosophical challenge.




Rhetorical Injustice: A Field Guide
Seth Robertson, University of Oklahoma


In this paper, I briefly introduce the concept of rhetorical injustice and outline its three major categories (restricted, unrestricted, and extreme), and then discuss ways in which rhetorical and epistemic injustice intersect, and how an understanding of each helpfully informs the other. Rather than being centered primarily on the wrong done to a knower via her social identity, rhetorical injustice is centered on the wrong done via particular rhetorical positions in rhetorical spaces. Rhetorical injustice occurs when, in the space of public reason-giving, certain rhetorical positions are given more or less credibility, qua rhetorical position, than they deserve in ways that constitute or significantly contribute to an injustice: when the perspectives, claims, reasons, and arguments that would help us identify, expose, interpret, analyze and thus understand, eliminate, and repair injustices are systemically weakened or closed off. The framework I provide for understanding rhetorical injustice is aimed especially at better understanding ways in which the technologies of political propaganda and manipulation are evolving, and this paper explores some of the most important implications of rhetorical injustice for epistemologists studying the social and political dimensions of knowledge.



Belief Polarization and Epistemic Feedback Loops

Blake Roeber, University of Notre Dame


I present a case where someone asserts a falsehood that she doesn’t believe and her assertion initiates an epistemic feedback loop where she is ultimately rationally obliged to believe the very falsehood that she asserted without believing. I then discuss the relevance of this sort of case to the ideologically homogeneous communities that are the focus of Bill Bishops book The Big Sort.



Impossibility Results for Rational Belief

Gerhard Schurz, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf


There are two ways of representing rational belief: qualitatively as yes-or-no belief, and quantitatively as degrees of belief. Standard rationality conditions are: (i) consistency and logical closure, for qualitative belief, (ii) satisfaction of the probability axioms, for quantitative belief, and (iii) a relationship between qualitative and quantitative beliefs in accordance with Locke’s thesis. In this talk it is shown that these conditions are inconsistent with each of two further rationality conditions: rich fallibilism and open-mindedness. Restrictions of Locke’s thesis that have been suggested in the literature cannot remove the inconsistency. In the conclusion two possible ways of overcoming these negative results are discussed; one is designed for epistemic contexts and the other one for practical contexts.



Knowledge-First Social Epistemology

Mona Simion, University of Glasgow


I develop a novel methodology for social epistemology, one that puts knowledge first, I take social epistemological interactions to be moves in inquiry, and inquiry to be an epistemic practice with the function of generating knowledge. In virtue of being moves in inquiry, on this view, the function of social epistemic interactions is that of generating knowledge. In turn, whether we comply with epistemic norms in social settings turns on the proper functioning of our belief-formation processes that have generating knowledge as their epistemic function. A social epistemic interaction is properly functioning if and only if it functions in a way that reliably generates knowledge in the social system.



Justification through Imagining the Past

Lu Teng, NYU Shanghai


Many philosophers are quite pessimistic about whether imaginings can provide us with non-modal justification—justification for believing non-modal propositions. Recent empirical research has showed that episodic memories might just be a kind of imaginings. If skepticism about justification through episodic memories is untenable, then we at least have one strong case of justification through imagining: justification through imagining the past. This talk will investigate why episodic memories, despite being imaginings, can provide us with non-modal justification. It will first examine some features that normally prevent imaginings from providing us with non-modal justification, and will explain why episodic memories do not encounter similar problems. Then the talk will offer an analysis of what makes episodic memories provide non-modal justification, which will reject the relevance of having certain phenomenal character and will, on the other hand, argue for the importance of having a particular kind of etiology.



Problematic Perception: Beyond Projection and Misattribution

Maura Tumulty, Colgate University


Recent discussions of epistemically interesting perceptual troubles tend to focus on cases that fit the projection-and-misattribution model (see e.g. Siegel 2017).  On that model, a feature of a perceiving subject affects how she perceives her perceptual target—yet her perception (of course) feels to her like an ordinary perceptual response to features of her target.  So, her own present anger may cause her to perceive her friend’s face as angry (rather than puzzled); some of her sexist stereotypes may cause her to hear a woman’s voice as shrill or whiny (rather than high).  (There are other available models—based on hallucination and/or banal visual illusion—but they don’t seem adequate to perceptual troubles that are caused by features of the human social world.)  However, some socially-driven perceptual troubles can’t be explained on the projection-and-misattribution model.  In particular, that model misses cases where the perceiving subject isn’t, strictly speaking, attributing to her target features it doesn’t have.  These cases are likely to arise when a perceiver’s perceptual response is shaped by social forces that lower her standing (in her own regard) relative to her perceptual target (as when a female subordinate perceives her charismatic bully of a boss as charismatic).  Examining perception in modalities other than vision helps explain how these cases can indeed be cases of problematic perception.  It also helps indicate how this sub-type of problematic perception, and the beliefs it feeds, can be avoided.



Honest to Kant

Wojciech Żełaniec, University of Gdansk


Bishop Robinson famously summoned us to be “honest to God”, i.e. to admit that we no longer believed in him/her the way our forefathers did; I am not sure about deities, as there are people who claim to have had some experiential knowledge of them. As regards a priori knowledge, though, I’d reluctantly cast my vote for being “honest to Kant” and confess that it’s rather difficult to seriously believe in any such, pace Boghossian, Bonjour, Burge, Casullo, … and many other contemporary Angloamerican friends of the a priori, whose most highly ingenuous arguments in its favour I cannot be deeply admire. There may well be, as these thinkers and others can safely be reckoned to have demonstrated, all kinds of a priori justifications of various pieces of knowledge, a priori in the sense that they anticipatorily take for granted various non-yet-established facts or even no less anticipatorily declare such facts impossible. But such justifications yield just a fallibilist, relativised (M. Friedman), defeasible a priori knowledge, which relates to the old-fashioned robust hard-working a priori knowledge more or less like our God relates to that full-blooded one of our forefathers and -mothers’. Other than that, what remains is convention, which can, of course, be adopted once and for all (although it seldom does, I am drawing a bit on Rethinking Logic by Carlo Cellucci, Springer, 2013). But it would be silly to try to provide an a priori argument against the very possibility of a priori knowledge, but I hope I shall steer clear of this danger.



Understanding Injustice through Epistemic Authority

Sarah Wright, University of Georgia


If the goal of our epistemic practices is understanding (rather than simply true belief) the epistemic authorities we recognize ought to be what Christoph Jäger (2016) has characterized as “Socratic authorities” – those who are well-poised to serve as a source of understanding for others.  The maieutic abilities of these authorities depend not only on their own understanding but also on their relations to those they seek to enlighten.  Guiding someone to their own understanding requires a nuanced picture of that person’s capacities, experiences, and theoretical frameworks.  Standpoint theory raises a potential problem for the goals of Socratic authorities.  Those who have experienced social injustices plausibly have a special claim to epistemic authority concerning those injustices.  But when these authorities try to guide others to understand these injustices they may be thwarted by the gap between their epistemic standpoints. The difficulty of transmitting understanding between divergent standpoints raises two questions. 1) How can we recognize authorities in contexts of social and epistemic injustice? 2) How can we gain understanding from those authorities when their experiences are radically different from our own? I argue that the gulf between the standpoints of authorities and non-authorities must be closed from both directions; both participants will be aided in this project by developing the hermeneutic virtues appropriate to their roles.