Author Information: Joshua Bergamin, University of Durham, UK, j.a.bergamin@durham.ac.uk

Bergamin, Joshua. “To Know and To Be: Second-Person Knowledge and the Intersubjective Self, A Reply to Talbot.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 10 (2017): 43-47.

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Bonnie Talbert’s article opens up some fascinating questions stemming from the nature of our second-person knowledge, which led me on a thought-provoking journey from questioning what it takes to know another person, towards wondering what is a person, in itself? In this reply, I explore Talbert’s claim to getting to know a person is akin to the ‘knowing-how’ of a skill. However, I question her assertion that the propositional ‘knowing-that’ of ‘figuring someone out’ is of secondary importance, noting the important interplay of knowledge-how and knowledge-that in the process of skill-acquisition. I try to resolve this by asking what is it that we are trying to know when we come to know another person, which offers some intriguing (if speculative) hypotheses on the nature of our second-person relationships.

Knowing a Person

As Talbert points out, knowing a person differs from other types of knowledge especially insofar as people are “moving targets” (2). Human beings are in a constant state of change. As well as physically growing and ageing, facts about our personalities and lifestyles are also in continual flux. A disciplined child can become a scatterbrained adult, while a mid-life crisis mellows into a graceful old age. We can go from disliking scotch whisky to collecting it, from being thrilled by big city life to annoyed by it, or from being avowed pacifists to hard-headed realpolitikers. And if such changes aren’t hard enough to keep track of, we are at all stages bundles of contradictions, capable of holding and acting on conflicting views, like a chain-smoking doctor who counsels her patients to quit, or a professor of logic whose day is brightened by a fortune cookie.

Knowing someone, we feel, must be more than knowing if they still like bourbon, or are a smoker, or a hypocrite. Knowing all the facts about what a person might do or say in a situation, Talbert argues, does not help us really get to know them, anymore than knowing facts about their hair colour or their shoe size. It’s arguable that Facebook or Amazon ‘know’ more about your politics, your wardrobe, even who you’ve got a crush on, than all but your closest friends. Yet nobody really thinks that such systems (or those with access to them) could actually know you better than your friends do. All the same, we’re still left with an uncertainty about just what the ‘knowing’ at stake consists of.

Talbert’s answer is that getting to know someone is something like learning a skill. Acquiring a skill, goes the argument, is not simply a matter of learning propositional facts about it, but involves the non-propositional knowledge that one gains through immersion in an activity. For example, to cook a good spaghetti carbonara, it’s not enough to know that the sauce contains only the yolk of the egg, or what the ratio of pancetta to garlic is. Really knowing how to mix the eggs and add them to the pasta requires actually practising making the dish, and in that process acquiring what Harry Collins (2010) calls the ‘tacit knowledge’ that helps us judge when to take the garlic out, or if the pasta is al dente, and other subtleties that can’t be easily be captured in propositions. Cooking a really good carbonara, moreover, requires what Collins & Evans (2007) call the “interactive expertise” that you can’t learn from a recipe book, but only through ‘hanging out’ with the right people; that is, with other practising experts who—through conversations, demonstrations, and sharing the act of cooking and eating together—socialise you into the best practices and family secrets, gradually transmitting the subtleties of an art that goes beyond what words can describe.

In this respect, I think Talbert has hit on something quite insightful. Getting to know another person is the intersubjective experience par excellence, and I suspect that the growing ease and comfort with which we interact with someone as we get to know them is more than analogous to our growing sense of confidence as we become familiar with a task. Yet I think that, in highlighting the significance of tacit knowledge, Talbert is overly dismissive of the role of explicit knowledge-that in coming to know another person, as when she argues (pp. 3-4) that trying to ‘figure someone out’ is counterproductive.

Skill Acquisition

In building her account, Talbert draws on work on skill acquisition, especially that of Hubert Dreyfus, who famously argues (2005; 2007; 2013) that that too much (deliberative, propositional) thinking interferes with performance. Dreyfus’ (2007, 354) paradigm example is the baseball player Chuck Knoblauch, who at the peak of his career was plagued by rookie errors in simple situations where he had ample time to act. Curiously, however, in tighter situations, where he had no time to think, he completed difficult throws with the expertise that got him into the big leagues in the first place. Dreyfus’ conclusion is that Knoblauch was over-thinking on his simple throws—focusing too much on the uncountable minutiae of body movements rather than acting holistically, ‘in the flow.’

While I am sympathetic to Dreyfus’ account (and have defended it elsewhere (Bergamin 2017)), it is important to note that it applies to an expert at the peak of their game. The road to becoming an expert, on the other hand, involves quite a lot of thinking and puzzling over knowledge-that (see Dreyfus & Dreyfus 1986, 2005). Dreyfus (1991, 68-9), drawing on Heidegger’s (1962) so-called ‘theory of equipment,’ gives a special emphasis to the ‘breakdown’ that happens during smooth-coping, and which draws our attention to the elements of our action. Separating an egg’s yolk from its white, to take a simple example, takes a bit of sticky practice to do smoothly. While your grandmother might do it almost automatically and with her attention elsewhere, on your first couple of tries it’s helpful to concentrate and think deliberatively about the steps of the task. Even once you’ve mastered it, and can do it ‘without thinking,’ your attention still gets drawn back to the objects and deliberative thought when things go wrong—say, if the egg doesn’t crack as expected. This interruption breaks the phenomenological ‘flow’ of the task, but also provides fodder for further learning and refining your skill.

If getting to know a person is something like learning a skill, then the kind of ‘breakdowns’ that help us learn skills should also apply to getting to know someone. A couple’s first fight, for example, is often a defining moment in their relationship. In the flurry of a new romance, it’s easy to feel like we’ve found someone who really ‘gets’ us—everything is exciting, smooth, and flowing. But sooner or later, inevitably, something goes wrong—we say or do things that are unexpected, surprising, hurtful. But then (hopefully), after the fighting and the tears, we talk about it; we step back from the situation and share why we felt the way we felt and said the things we said. We make up, and feel closer, with the feeling that we now know each other a little bit better than before.

Talbert argues that trying to ‘figure someone out’ is counterproductive. And past a certain point, it probably is—trying to psychoanalyse a new partner is like trying to write out a recipe you haven’t yet tried. Yet it doesn’t follow from this that ‘figuring out’ has no place, and indeed, I would argue that it is a necessary element of coming to know someonewith the caveat that it is only part of our ‘practice’ of getting to know someone. It’s through a combination of both the interactive, shared activity that Talbert recommends, plus direct questions and reflection, that help us really get to know a person—to know that when he says he doesn’t mind, he actually really does, or when she goes quiet, it’s because she’s shy, not rude.

Learning, Knowing, Practicing

Importantly—just like with a skill—as we become proficient, we stop needing to actively ‘work someone out’ but we learn to read them intuitively. However, as Dreyfus argues, reaching this point requires a combination of reflection plus lots of practice.[1] Furthermore, I suspect that we have to start more-or-less from scratch with each new individual we get to know. To hold that actively ‘figuring someone out’ is better left to the side implies that getting to know someone is a skill that, once mastered, one could apply to different, particular individuals. Yet that—I believe—comes from a confusion over the object of our knowledge, and is where the ‘skills analogy’ starts to break down.

The skills analogy is confusing in that, unlike the kinds of embodied skills that Dreyfus, Collins, and others discuss, knowing another person has no clear success conditions. Talbert, rightly I believe, rejects simply predicting behaviour, since an impartial psychologist or even an algorithm can do that with some degree of reliability. All the same, knowing some facts about someone must be important, since Talbert also—again, I think, rightly—rejects simple ease-of-interaction, since a gifted psychiatrist, host, or salesperson can ‘read’ a person and make them feel ‘at home’ without knowing anything concrete about them. Furthermore, it isn’t even obvious that getting along well with someone is a sign of actually knowing them—many bad relationships are rooted in the fact that two people know one another too well. If knowing someone is like a skill, then, we must ask, what is the object of that skill? What are we doing when we know another human being?

Knowing a person is, of course, very different to cooking pasta, or to any other skill that we might learn. Most skills, like cooking carbonara or riding a bike, are what Setiya (2014, 12-3), in an interesting reading of Aristotle, calls telic—they are directed at an end (telos), such as impressing a date, or getting to work on time. As Heidegger (1962, 118-9) points out, however, we apply ourselves to such ends not as ends in themselves but ‘in order to’ perform something much more meaningful. These more meaningful, atelic activities, Heidegger argued, are ‘for the sake of’ being a certain kind of person—in an important sense, they define who are we are. A good cook, an attentive lover, a punctual worker—each of these discloses an ethical value in a broad sense. They are who we want to be.

Really knowing somebody is an atelic activity—a ‘for the sake of itself.’ One can, of course, get to ‘know’ somebody ‘in order to’ do something else, such as to survey them as an anthropologist, or ‘network’ with them to advance one’s career. But that isn’t really the sense that I think is at stake in Talbert’s discussion. Getting to know somebody—whether intimately or casually, by choice or by happenstance—is something that we continually engage in as an essential part of living a human social life.

If knowing another person is an open-ended, atelic ‘for the sake of itself,’ this leads us towards the fascinating possibility that each relationship is a kind of identity, a way of being in itself. This applies not just to our significant relationships with lovers and close friends, but with casual acquaintances and interactions on the street. Talbert’s conclusion implies the Heideggerian point that our everyday interactions tend not to involve much thinking, but are immersive, intersubjective events. We act (and react) without a lot of deliberative thinking, such that each relationship is different for each of us, and to some extent, out of our control. You and I might be great friends, but while you and Jamie are always laughing together, he and I never manage more than an awkward conversation. It’s as though I’m a different person with you than I am with Jamie—or more precisely, the being-together that you-and-I share is different to the being-with of me-and-Jamie.

This conclusion is, of course, a bit speculative. But it’s an interesting hypothesis that Talbert’s work brings forth for me. If people are ‘moving targets,’ then we are not ‘things’ but ‘processes,’ systems that are in constant flux. To know such a process is not to try nail down the ever-changing facts about it, but involves interacting with it. Yet we who interact are ourselves a similar kind of ‘process,’ and in getting to know somebody we are just as much the known as the knower. Our relationships, therefore, are a kind of identity, that involves us and yet exceeds us—growing and evolving over time.

References

Bergamin, Joshua. “Being-in-the-Flow: Expert Coping as Beyond Both Thought and Automaticity.” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 16, no. 3 (2017): 403-424.

Benner, Patricia. From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1984.

Collins, Harry and Evans, Robert. Rethinking Expertise. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Collins, Harry. Tacit and Explicit Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Dreyfus, Hubert. Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991.

Dreyfus, Hubert. “Overcoming the Myth of the Mental: How Philosophers Can Profit from the Phenomenology of Everyday Expertise.” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 79, no. 2 (2005): 47-65.

Dreyfus, Hubert. “The Return of the Myth of the Mental.” Inquiry 50, no. 4 (2007): 352-365.

Dreyfus, Hubert. “The Myth of the Pervasiveness of the Mental” In Mind, Reason, and Being-in-the-World: The McDowell-Dreyfus Debate, edited by Joseph K. Schear, 15-40. Abingdon: Routledge, 2013.

Dreyfus, Hubert and Dreyfus, Stuart. Mind Over Machine. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.

Dreyfus, Hubert and Dreyfus, Stuart. “Peripheral Vision: Expertise in Real World Contexts.” Organization Studies, 26 (2005): 779-792.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, London: SCM Press, 1962.

Setiya, Kieran. “The Midlife Crisis.” Philosophers Imprint, 14, no. 31 (2014): 1-18.

Talbert, Bonnie. “Overthinking and Other Minds: The Analysis Paralysis.” Social Epistemology (2017): 1-12. doi: 10.1080/02691728.2017.1346933.

[1] It’s significant that Dreyfus & Dreyfus (2005) find that people who are emotionally-invested in their activities—who rejoice in their successes and are despondent at their failures—are more likely to become expert in a certain activity. In the context of getting to know someone, it follows that—as we would expect—we get closer to people that we really care about. Cf. Benner (1984).

Author Information: Daniel Robins, University of York, UK, daniel.robins@york.ac.uk

Robins, Daniel. “Toxic Necro-Waste.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 10 (2017): 39-42.

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The concept of necro-waste is a fascinating one, with a wide application across the social sciences. Something that I wanted to highlight in this reply was the toxicity of necro-waste. Olson acknowledges this by discussing how necro-waste can cause harm to labour.[1] The example that he gives is the embalming fluids which can poison the embalmers working with them. This also applies to cremated remains, which can be breathed in by the crematorium staff handling them, causing breathing problems. But, for me, the toxicity of necro-waste goes beyond its materiality. It’s also socially polluting as toxicity can be drawn from the meaning of the corpse materials.

Ian Brady’s Remains

The question over what to do with the remains of the British serial killer, Ian Brady, demonstrates this point well. Between the years of 1963-1965, Brady, along with his accomplice, Myra Hindley, abducted, tortured, and murdered five children between the ages of 10-17. They then buried four of the victims on Saddleworth Moor. The body of 12 year old Keith Bennet is believed to still be buried there. Brady died in May and, four months after his death, the coroner’s inquest was held. For those four months, his corpse was held in a ‘monster morgue’, alongside the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi.

It was not long after Brady’s death that the media reports turned to the question of what would happen to his remains. Christopher Sumner, the coroner that handled the body, stated that it would not be released until two assurances had been made. First, there would need to be a funeral director and crematorium staff willing to work with it. Second, Brady’s cremated remains were not to be spread on Saddleworth Moor.

Yet, Brady was born and raised in Glasgow, and it was believed that he wanted his cremated remains to be scattered there. However, Glasgow council were quick to state that his remains were not to be scattered on their lands. Thus, from early on there was a tight control over where Brady’s remains could and could not be disposed of.

This control exhibited in the management of Brady’s corpse is not unusual. Myra Hindley died in 2002 and there was a similar reluctance from funeral directors to work with her body. In the end, the final resting place of her remains was kept secret from the public and the funeral director that carried out the ceremony was never named for fear of their reputation being tarnished. In a sense, these mechanisms of control demarcate the remains as poisonous. There’s a reluctance to house them. Nobody must know where they have been disposed of as the meaning of the disposal site will change.

Ian Brady as Toxic Necro-Waste

The meanings associated with the remains of Ian Brady transform them into a form of toxic necro-waste. If necro-waste is a way of categorising corpse materials as waste, toxic necro-waste is a way of contextualising the most harmful and poisonous aspects of this waste. This could be present in their materiality, as stated at the beginning of this reply, or could also be present in the meaning of the waste material.

In the discussion above, Brady’s remains are comparable to barrelled radioactive waste, in that they are tightly controlled to prevent poisoning the environment. Much of this control, however, emanates from the meaning of the corpse materials. While Brady may now be deceased, the depravities that he committed do not simply go away. His corpse still holds the meaning of these because it is the vessel through which they were committed. The challenge becomes what to do with that vessel.

Disposing of Toxic Necro-Waste

The concept of toxic necro-waste problematizes the process of disposal. Indeed, Mary Douglas understands disposal as an act of putting something beyond a threshold. It is a way of creating boundaries and order.[2] However, the disposal of something also includes disposing of that ‘thing’s’ meaning.[3] The meanings attached to Brady demarcated him as something poisonous to society while he was alive. His body had been locked inside Ashworth hospital since 1985. It had been disposed of from society during this period as it was barred from the public, and suitably pacified. But, now that he’s dead, his corpse sits in an uncertain space. It has not yet been disposed of and, thus, not yet repositioned in the social order.

When necro-waste is physically disposed of, its meaning still remains. People visit grave sites to mourn, wear objects containing cremated remains, and visit sites of mass murder, such as the Cambodian killing fields. Brady will have no grave site. When the material disposal is carried out, the final location of his remains will likely be kept a secret. He will, however, continue to exist in the public consciousness through documentary, film, and television adaptations.

Toxic necro-waste brings these questions of disposing of necro-waste back to the forefront. There’s clearly more to be said about the interaction between necro-waste and the process of disposal. How, for instance, does society dispose of the socially poisonous when the disposal of meaning is incompatible with the physical process of disposal? These questions stretch necro-waste further than the fields of death care and health care. It’s a cultural waste too.

Troyer hinted at this with his sub type ‘Anxiety Producing Necro-Waste’.[4] Toxic necro-waste feeds into necro-waste on the movie screen. The story of Brady is told and retold until the meaning becomes adapted. In a sense, the toxicity becomes more consumable. It moves from being akin to barrelled radioactive waste to being similar to a cigarette. Cigarettes are still toxic, but we are happy to disregard the negative effects for the positive, psychological ones. Similarly, Brady is still toxic, but public fascinations with the morbid lead to a disregarding of this toxicity. It has been re-established as consumable through media.[5] This could be an attempt at disposing of the socially poisonous.

Toxic Necro-Waste

Bigger questions over cultural waste come out of this, but these are too big to adequately address in this reply. Though, what I hope that the concept of toxic necro-waste demonstrates is the powerful role that necro-waste can play in understanding contemporary culture. Perhaps this could be extended in further publications. Either way, the concept of necro-waste clearly has an exciting future. Its wide application across the social sciences guarantees this.

References

Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger. London: Routledge, 2001.

Munro, Rolland. ‘Disposal of the Body: Upending Postmodernism.’ ephemera 1, no. 2 (2001): 108-130.

Olson, Philip R. “Knowing ‘Necro Waste.’” Social Epistemology 30, no. 3 (2016): 326-345.

Penfold-Mounce, Ruth. ‘Corpses, Popular Culture and Forensic Science: Public Obsession with Death.’ Mortality 21 no. 1 (2016): 19-35.

Troyer, John. “‘Owning’ Necro-Waste.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 3 (2016): 59-63.

[1] See Olson, 2016, 335.

[2] Douglas 2001, 2.

[3] Munro, 2001, 112.

[4] Troyer, 2016, 63.

[5] Penfold-Mounce, 2016, 19.

Author Information: Steve Breyman, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, breyms@rpi.edu

Breyman, Steve. “The Superior Lie: A Review of The Deceptive Activist.Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 11 (2017): 36-38.

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Brian Martin’s work is unique among scholars in Science and Technology Studies. He is not bashful about the sort of world he prefers, and steers his inquiries directly into hotly contested public controversies. From scientific struggles over the cause of HIV/AIDS to the theoretical best form of democracy, Martin weighed in. Sure, many of us wear our hearts on our sleeves; his scholarship—spread over sixteen books and hundreds of articles—has a practical, applied bent exceedingly rare among academics in any field.

The Deceptive Activist—Martin’s latest—is scrupulously documented, and an excellent example of his signature easy style. The book is highly readable, and flows smoothly. Sensibly constructed, Martin’s arguments and evidence are complex and sophisticated; there are no easy answers to be found here.

Civically Relevant Dissembling

This is not Brian Martin’s first foray into political lying (the subject of a 2014 article; access his work here). His aim this time around: “to highlight the tensions around activism, openness and honesty” (3). The stuff of the book is a veritable primer on all manner of civically relevant dissembling. Chapters 2 and 3 provide a typology of lies, from the everyday to the official. He discusses the difference between openness and honesty, and includes lies of omission. Withholding the truth may in some cases be as damaging as a bald-faced lie. I was once bound by a strictly enforced “honor code” and it carved out space for ‘socially acceptable’ lies. Martin naturally includes those “little white lies” too.

The stakes matter. Official deception is worse than individual deception because officials have more power. This includes lying by police (expressly permitted by criminal courts in United States). While generally preferring openness and honesty, it’s OK to lie to save human lives. Martin includes a timely discussion of “sock puppets” (people pretending they’re someone else on line) given a young Swede’s infiltration of fascist groups in Europe and the US.

While Martin does not directly address “fake news,” he provides an interesting and useful typology of propaganda. Martin dissects the varieties of government propaganda, explaining how politicians employ public relations specialists to twist and manipulate information conveyed to voters. The book includes a road map for uncovering official deception—devised to reduce outrage—using the notorious Nazi T4 euthanasia program as example. We learn to be cautious about public scandals given that some are manufactured by the political enemies of the politician in question. This may be a variety of “fake news” after all. Along the way, we learn never to trust authorities when they claim not to be influenced by social movements working hard to pressure them.

We’re introduced to various sorts of self-deception, including the collective sort Martin assigns to scientists who still push the public perception of their profession as value-free, objective and dispassionate. Martin understands that his thorough cataloging of the universe of lies could easily lead some to become cynical and reject everything that comes out of the mouths of corporate chieftains and politicians. To guard against over-skepticism, he provides a manual for lie detection in Chapter 4.

It’s virtually impossible for most of us to use visual cues to detect lies (US Secret Service agents appear reasonably good at it); Martin has us instead look at a speaker’s record, and a number of other clues summarized in Table 4.1 (64). It’s a helpful list that I wish American journalists had to hand during the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq when official mendacity ran amok.

Donald Trump’s brazen disregard for truth requires no guide to expose. One need only unearth an earlier tweet or previous statement that directly contradicts the current claim, an easy task. Americans may yet again have cause to use Martin’s clues in the future should we ever return to the normal regime of lies tougher to detect. The dawning of the post-truth era in a growing number of country’s politics does not excuse us from seriously grappling with the issues raised in the book.

Martin would have us view truth-telling as one virtue among others, and he shows how it sometimes clashes with the others. But there are times when telling the truth gets one in trouble as Martin shows with several examples where Gandhi’s truth-telling was exploited first by the British, then the Japanese (97-100). Martin conjures several scenarios where lying is superior to the truth and counsels against an absolutist position. He believes a relativist position morally superior to absolutism as it can prevent violence and other harms. His case studies (Chapter 6) end up making a good case for situational ethics and contingent morality.

Honesty and Lies

Activists ought to discuss honesty within their groups thinks Martin. Interestingly, he compares the features for effective nonviolent action he identified in an earlier work to lying, and suggests that one may lie “nonviolently.” His examples range from the satire and provocation of The Yes Men, to the classic case of sheltering a refugee from the Nazis.

I’ve not confronted most of these same tensions around (dis)honesty in my own activism, and I don’t think many of us have. Why bother lying? The truth—defined as the overwhelming majority of the genuine, as opposed to “alternative,” facts—is on our side. This imbalance explains why we devote our time, energy and resources to civic engagement. It also explains why activists are big fans of sunshine laws and freedom of information statutes.

Martin asks whether direct action advocates should share their plans with the police, wondering whether failing to do so constitutes a lie of omission. He realizes at the same time that to do so might compromise the action in advance. The dilemma is generally not difficult to resolve. The activists have a specific goal in mind (to urge climate action, or stop a natural gas pipeline) and do not believe any means is justified to reach their end. And as with other forms of civil disobedience, participants are prepared to face the legal consequences of their action. Activists thus face the wrath of the state in either scenario, whether they divulge their plans or not. Should there be a “lie” here, it hurt no one and those who were party to it are held responsible for it.

Martin is concerned that corporations and the state are not alone in their efforts to manage and interpret information to serve their own purposes. Exaggeration and hype are certainly issues for progressive organizations. I receive communications from social movement organizations on a daily basis that could be said to be one-sided or overblown. Activists too engage in spin doctoring. They are, after all, advocates for a cause. This does not, of course, grant them a license to lie, and they likely should sometimes tone down their “messaging.” But these normal exaggerations are about tone or still uncertain consequences (of, for example, climate change) not about the science, the “truth,” underlying the initial worry. Nevertheless, in certain relatively rare circumstances—some of special concern to Martin who has written and acted broadly and deeply on whistleblowing—veritas is at stake.

Should whistleblowers see themselves as akin to those engaged in nonviolent direct action, where the latter courageously face the fallout from their actions? Such a stance would result in dire personal and professional consequences, despite the protections in place in several countries. Whistleblowers prefer their complaints be handled through formal channels, but will go to the news media should that fail or not be a realistic option (as in the case of Chelsea Manning). Martin joins many of the rest of us in seeing the Daniel Ellsbergs and Edward Snowdens not as deceptive activists but rather as heroes for taking such grave personal risks.

The book closes with a lessons learned chapter. Martin summarizes his lessons regarding honesty and openness. He’s never preachy, looks at all sides, and is cautious in his advice. His sound advice, however, overlooked an inescapable fact all activists must face: the truth matters in public life but who wins and who loses is determined not by right but by might.

References

Martin, Brian. The Deceptive Activist. Sparsnas, Sweden: Irene Publishing, 2017.

Nelson, Gregory. “Putting The Deceptive Activist into Conversation: A Review and a Response to Rappert.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 11 (2017): 33-35.

Rappert, Brian. “Brian Martin’s The Deceptive Activist: A Review.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 10 (2017): 52-55.

Author Information: Gregory Nelson, Northern Arizona University, nelsong@vt.edu

Nelson, Gregory. “Putting The Deceptive Activist into Conversation: A Review and a Response to Rappert.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 11 (2017): 33-35.

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Image credit: Irene Publishing

The Deceptive Activist
Brian Martin
Irene Publishing (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)
168 pp.
http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/17da/index.html

Brian Martin’s The Deceptive Activist begins a critical and timely commentary on the role and use of lying and deception in the realm of politics. According to Martin, lying and deception are as mutually constitutive of social interactions as technologies of truth-telling. Lying and truth-telling are two sides of the same coin of communication. Instead of depreciating lying and deception as things to avoid on Kantian moral grounds Martin makes the case that lying and deceit are quotidian and fundamental and natural to human communication.

Martin wants readers to strategically think about the role of lying and deception using context dependent analysis of how deception can be beneficial in certain circumstances. Martin “…aims in this book to highlight the tensions around activism, openness and honesty.”[1] The central argument of the book is that lying and deception are critical and routinely deployed tools that activists use to pursue social change. Instead of debating the moral status of deception in a zero-sum game he asks readers to think of role of deception by strategically analyzing the use of the means of lying and deceit vis à vis an end goal of effecting political change through non-violence and harm reduction.

A Proper Forum

In Brian Rappert’s review of Brain Martin’s The Deceptive Activist Rappert raises the critical question of the proper forum for having a discussion on a book about deception and the use of deception in society. Rappert’s call for a forum for this discussion cannot be overstated. The use of deception is a slippery slope as its use requires an evaluation of the means deployed and the ends desired. History is rife with examples of noble attempts to pursue noble ends using means that in the end become revealed as ethically compromised and corrupting of the whole project. Rappert’s review of The Deceptive Activist lays the ground for the emergence of a discussion. Certainly a book review cannot begin to address all of the careful, meticulous, and robust debate and discussion needed to begin to formulate an emergent discussion on lying and deception in more neutral and strategic ways, however, we can begin to use Martin’s work as an opportunity to acknowledge the pervasive role of deception even in the circles of activists who promote justice, peace, compassion, and empathy.

It would be beneficial to develop an edited volume on lying and deception in society. Science and Technology Studies offers us the ability to conceptualize lying and deception as social and political technologies deployed in the wielding of power. The nuance that Martin’s account brings is the readiness to discuss these technologies as useful tools in activist endeavors to pursue their ideals of change and justice. Martin gives readers frequent examples of how powerful actors use deception to control narratives of their activities in order to positively influence the perception of their image. For Martin the crucial work “…should be to work out when deception is necessary or valuable.”[2] He proposes a criteria of evaluation to evaluate when deception should be deployed based on “harm, fairness, participation, and prefiguration.”[3] His criteria is applicable to activist decisions of when to keep a secret, leak information, plan an action, communicate confidentially, infiltrate the opposition, deploying masks at a protest, or circulating disinformation about a political opponent.

However, in a world in which deception is normalized, his criteria runs the risk of ignoring how deceit, when mobilized by powerful actors, can threaten the less powerful. Developing a means to evaluate deploying deception should be organized by small groups of activists without a way to condemn the use of deceit by the powerful to harm the less powerful leaves the reader wanting more. Martin’s criteria were developed specifically to evaluate when deception might be justified by activist groups who have asymmetrical power relations to the wielders of state and corporate power. The tension that emerges from Martin’s book is between the use of deception by small groups in contrast to large and highly centralized powerful state authorities. Martin explains, “By being at the apex of a bureaucratic organization or prestige system, authorities have more power and a greater ability to prevent any adverse reactions due to deceptions that serve their interests.”[4]

Deception and Defactualization

Martin attempts to negotiate around this problem of recognizing deception as an important tool in activist struggles while also condemning history’s greatest abuses of deception by defining an assessment criteria to evaluate the context and nuance of when deception should be used in according to an ethic of minimal harm. Martin suggests “… assessments are dependent on the context. Still, there are considerable differences in the possible harms involved.” The way out of the ethical tensions that arise when those seeking to do good use the means of deception is to turn to assessing “situations according to the features of effective nonviolent action.”[5] I am not convinced that this enough to effectively deal with the dilemmas that arise when the power of deception is harnessed even in search of what are seemingly good and just ends. After all do we want to live in a world in which the ends justify the means, or the means become the ends in themselves? I can think of plenty examples in which this type of thinking bleeds.

Martin’s work calls us to reconsider the critiques of deception developed by Hannah Arendt in the Crisis of the Republic. Ardent writes, “In the realm of politics, where secrecy and deliberate deception have always played a significant role, self-deception is the danger par excellence; the self-deceived deceiver loses all contact with not only his audience, but also the real world, which still will catch up with him, because he can remove his mind from it but not his body.”[6] The dangerous step in the use of the means and power of deception in the pursuit of just ends lies in the corruption of those ends through defactualization.

Defactualization is a term used by Arendt in which the self-deceived loses the ability to distinguish between fact and fiction. The defactualization of the world, created by the self-deceiver, engulfs them because no longer can the self-deceiver see reality as it stands. The self-deceiver accommodates the facts to suit his or her assumptions: the process of defactualization. The actor becomes blind through his lies and can no longer distinguish truth and false. Martin does not leave a critique of self-deception by the way side, but his brief treatment of it at the end of his work forces us to find the space in which we can have a more robust and developed conversation per Rappert’s concern.

In the post-truth world, The Deceptive Activist is an immensely powerful work that helps to propel us to critically and strategically examine deception, in our own practices, in the era of the grand master of deception: Trump. Daily we are bombarded by various deceptions through the President’s Twitter. Exposing the number of Trump’s lies from inauguration crowd size to healthcare to climate change to taxes is a tiresome and arduous task. When one lie is exposed another is already communicated. The extensive amount of lies leveraged on a daily basis deflates the power of activists to expose and reveal the lies.

In the post-truth era the spectacle of exposing lies and deceptions has become so routine it loses meaning and becomes part of the static of public discourse on contemporary events. There is no more shock value in the exposure of lies. Lying is normalized to the point of meaninglessness. While Martin’s work demonstrates crucial analysis into the how lying and deception are fundamental to everyday interactions, the acceptance of this reality should be constantly questioned and critically analyzed. The Deceptive Activist carefully paints a spectrum of how lying is used in everyday human relationships to reflect on the need for activists to practice critical self-analysis of the methods of deception they often deploy in their agendas to pursue change in society. Martin concludes by discussing what so concerned Hannah Arendt over 50 years ago: self-deception. This even more dangerous form of deception should be questioned. In the Trumpian age we must find the space to have discussions on deception, lying, and defactualization while resisting the temptation to self-deceive.

References

Arendt, Hannah. Crises of the Republic; Lying in Politics, Civil Disobedience on Violence, Thoughts on Politics, and Revolution. 1st ed. ed.  New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972.

Martin, Brian. The Deceptive Activist. Sparsnas, Sweden: Irene Publishing, 2017.

Rappert, Brian. “Brian Martin’s The Deceptive Activist: A Review.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 10 (2017): 52-55.

[1] Brian Martin, The Deceptive Activist (Sparsnas, Sweden: Irene Publishing, 2017), 3.

[2] Ibid., 156.

[3] Ibid., 153.

[4] Ibid., 25.

[5] Ibid., 144.

[6] Hannah Arendt, Crises of the Republic; Lying in Politics, Civil Disobedience on Violence, Thoughts on Politics, and Revolution, 1st ed. ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972), 36.

Author Information: Paul-Mikhail Catapang Podosky and William Tuckwell, University of Melbourne, ppodosky@student.unimelb.edu.au; wtuckwell@student.unimelb.edu.au

Podosky, Paul-Mikhail Catapang and William Tuckwell.[1] “There’s No Such Thing as Conceptual Competence Injustice: A Response to Anderson and Cruz.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 11 (2017): 23-32.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3NT

Please refer to:

Image credit: Ben Sutherland, via flickr

1. Introduction

It’s now been 10 years since the publication of Miranda Fricker’s Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing (2007). New and novel forms of epistemic injustice continue to be identified and theorized; some more novel than others. The most recent form of epistemic injustice to be identified is what Derek Egan Anderson has termed conceptual competence injustice; “a form of epistemic injustice that occurs when a marginalized epistemic agent makes a conceptual claim and is illegitimately regarded as having failed to grasp one or more of the concepts expressed in her testimony” (2017, 210).

In this paper, we provide reasons to doubt that conceptual competence injustice is in fact a novel form of epistemic injustice. We argue for this on three grounds.

First, we suggest that there isn’t anything more to be learned by thinking about conceptual competence injustice that isn’t captured by testimonial injustice. Of course, we might learn of a specific instance of testimonial injustice, such as injustices involving conceptual competence, however we deny that Anderson has come across anything more substantial than this.

Second, despite his attempt to convince us otherwise, we will show that the grounds on which Anderson attempts to distinguish conceptual competence injustice from hermeneutical injustice and contributory injustice are ultimately unsuccessful.

Third, we query Manuel Padilla Cruz’s (2017) suggestion that conceptual competence injustice is useful in helping us to grasp how epistemic injustice manifests in the field of relevance theory and its application to linguistic pragmatics.

2. Conceptual Competence Injustice

Anderson (2017) makes the case that there is a distinctive kind of epistemic wrongdoing that occurs in assessments about a marginalized person’s conceptual competence; where such judgements can be made either by others, or reflexively. Specifically, Anderson suggests that conceptual competence injustice is a form of epistemic injustice “in which a member of a marginalized group is unjustly regarded as lacking conceptual or linguistic competence as a consequence of structural oppression” (2017, 210). Anderson emphasises that conceptual competence injustice can only occur in societies that “facilitate the systematic oppression of certain groups and the dominance of others” (2017, 210). To get a good grip on Anderson’s suggestion, he invites us to consider the following scenario:

A philosophy graduate student, who is a woman of color, is giving a talk on natural kind terms and she makes the claim that they are “not rigid designators” given her thorough understand of Soames (2002). A white male undergraduate hears this and thinks the speaker has said something false, since he thinks that she does not have a good grip of the concept of natural kind; after all, he is familiar with Kripke’s Naming and Necessity (1980). More than this, however, is that his judgement about the speaker’s conceptual competence is a product of implicit beliefs about women of color and their ability to understand metaphysics and the philosophy of language. Because of this, the white male hearer under-ascribes credibility to the speaker, and judges that he has better conceptual competence than she does (2017, 211).

For Anderson, this is a clear case of conceptual competence injustice. It is a clear event whereby “[a] person who is marginalized on the basis of her social identity makes a conceptual claim and that claim is rejected in part because her audience illegitimately judges her to have less credibility than she in fact has” (2017, 211). We agree with Anderson that something epistemically bad has happened here; the graduate student has been undermined in her capacity as a knower. However, we will argue in the following sections that the wrong that is present in cases like these can be captured by testimonial injustice.

But first we will argue against Anderson’s claim that conceptual competence injustice needn’t involve a judgement that is causally produced by an internal bias or prejudice. This is will be important in section 4.3, when we show that Anderson’s reasons for thinking that conceptual competence injustice is distinct from contributory injustice are ultimately unsuccessful.

3. A Note on the Causal Etiology of Conceptual Competence Injustice

One surprising feature of Anderson’s account of conceptual competence injustice is that he claims that it does not have to involve a judgement that is causally produced by some internal bias or prejudice; “[t]he causal etiology is not essential to the phenomenon” (2017, 211). He re-works the case of the white male undergraduate student to make his point:

Consider a variation of the case in which the white male graduate student has no implicit bias against women of color, but only has an unduly high degree of confidence in his own intellectual authority. His judgement still conforms to the general pattern of epistemic bias against women of color. It still harms the woman in all the same ways that it would have harmed her had the man’s judgement been caused by an implicit internalization of the pervasive epistemic bias against women of color … (2017, 211).

To see why this is surprising, compare it to the following case:

Imagine a person named Taylor who decides to judge the conceptual competence of others on the basis of a coin flip; heads is belief, tails is disbelief. One day Taylor comes across Linda, a black woman who is thoroughly familiar with the ins-and-outs of contemporary Meinongianism and can defend it against alternatives. Linda says to Taylor, “It seems obvious to me that there are things that don’t exist, so in some sense they must be”. Taylor pulls out her coin and it lands tails up; Taylor does not believe that Linda has a good grasp of the concept of existence.

Given Anderson’s requirements, should we say that Taylor has perpetrated conceptual competence injustice against Linda? Intuitively, we should say no; Taylor just has a bad belief forming methodology. However, according to Anderson, given that Linda is subject to a systematic pattern of epistemic marginalization, this is just another instance where she is not believed, and hence conceptual competence injustice has occurred. Anderson’s suggestion has to be that Taylor’s actions still harms Linda in all the same ways that it would have harmed her had Taylor’s judgement been caused by an implicit internalization of the pervasive epistemic bias against women of color (2017, 211).

The reason why Anderson is committed to this conclusion is because he is primarily interested in the “general pattern of epistemic bias against women of color”, independent of any internal bias, conscious or otherwise (2017, 211). But it isn’t clear what Anderson means by ‘general pattern’. In the case that Anderson specifies, a white male undergraduate student has an unduly high degree of belief in his intellectual authority, and because of this, when he hears a conceptual claim by a woman of color, he believes that she does not have a good grasp of the concept(s) that she is deploying. However, if such a student exists—and, irritatingly, they most certainly do—then their disbelief of other’s conceptual competence will not discriminate; by and large, they will think most people are intellectually inferior. The graduate student will, more or less, think that people don’t have a good grasp of philosophical concepts; or at least have a worse grasp than he does. Given this, the pattern of epistemic marginalization that Anderson seems to be suggesting is simply the fact that women of color are, on the whole, disbelieved.

But if this is right then coin-flipping Taylor must also be perpetrating conceptual competence injustice; she disbelieves Linda who is epistemically marginalized. This is a counterintuitive conclusion. Taylor does not seem to be committing anything other than shoddy epistemic behaviour; there doesn’t appear to be anything unjust about what she’s doing. Granted that Taylor isn’t perpetrating conceptual competence injustice, then it’s hard for us to see how the white male undergraduate student, no matter how annoying they are, could be committing such an injustice either. They both just have bad belief forming methods; one is due to an inflated judgement of their own intellectual capabilities, the other is due to forming beliefs on the basis of coin-flips. For each person, there will be times where they will disbelieve someone who is epistemically marginalized, but at these times it seems odd to say that they have committed any kind of epistemic injustice. What we should expect, then, is that the causal etiology of judgement does matter. Otherwise, we’ll have to admit that even in ‘coin-flipping’ cases, the person with dodgy belief-forming methods commit epistemically unjust acts.

4. Conceptual Competence Injustice and the Existing Forms of Epistemic Injustice

Anderson aims to distinguish conceptual competence injustice from existing forms of epistemic injustice, claiming that conceptual competence injustice is not captured by testimonial, hermeneutical, or contributory injustice. In this section we argue that the grounds on which Anderson tries to distinguish conceptual competence injustice from testimonial injustice ultimately fail. We also argue all instances of conceptual competence injustice can be accurately characterized as instances of testimonial injustice. Further to this, we consider each of the strategies that Anderson uses to distinguish conceptual competence injustice from hermeneutical injustice and contributory injustice, and we suggest that such strategies are unsuccessful.

4.1. Testimonial Injustice

For Anderson, conceptual competence injustice occurs in cases where a speaker (or thinker) makes a conceptual claim, the truth of which cannot be empirically settled (2017, 213). This provides grounds for Anderson’s first strategy to distinguish testimonial injustice from conceptual competence injustice (2017, 215). His suggestion is that because Fricker’s central case of testimonial injustice involves an under-ascription of credibility to a marginalized person’s testimony, where the truth of the testimony in question can be empirically settled, then Fricker’s central case is not an instance of conceptual competence injustice. It’s puzzling to us why Anderson employs this strategy. Fricker’s central case of testimonial injustice is not a defining case. Because of this, even if Anderson can show that the central case is not an instance of conceptual competence injustice, it does not entail that conceptual competence injustice is not just an instance of testimonial injustice.

Anderson’s second strategy is to attempt to demonstrate that not all instances of conceptual competence injustice are instances testimonial injustice (2017, 215). Anderson claims that this is because a person can suffer from conceptual competence injustice without speaking, and that because of this it cannot be testimonial injustice. This can occur in two ways. The first is that a marginalized person might come to doubt their own competence with a concept. Because of this, the marginalized person refrains from asserting something that she knows, or comes to doubt herself so much that she loses the belief that she is competent with a concept and hence loses knowledge of particular propositions that she previously had.

Let us think about whether it’s true to say that testimonial injustice cannot manifest itself in this way. Firstly, the harm that comes with this kind of self-doubt and lack of self-trust is present in Fricker’s original discussion of the harms of testimonial injustice. Fricker points out that the experience of persistent testimonial injustice may lead one to lose confidence in one’s beliefs and general intellectual capacities (Fricker 2007, 47). Further to this, Fricker points out that trustful dialogue with others is the mechanism through which one gains confidence in their beliefs, and, by extension, confidence to assert those beliefs (2007, 52); the absence of such means a loss in confidence in beliefs and their assertion.

Setting aside this exegetical consideration, we might make this point differently by considering the following question: can testimonial injustice be reflexive in this way? It seems so. There is no specification that the speaker and the hearer be different epistemic subjects; all that is required is that the speaker under-ascribe credibility to a hearer owing to structural identity prejudice. If one is subject to systems of epistemic marginalization and, say, internalizes a negative stereotype, then it seems possible that they could under-ascribed credibility to themselves in line with the stereotype and therefore come to doubt their knowledge of certain propositions. Hence, it seems perfectly plausible that testimonial injustice is something that can be reflexively perpetrated.

Granted that testimonial injustice can occur reflexively when it comes to one’s judgement of their knowledge or belief of certain propositions, should we say that this can also apply to one’s judgement about their own competence with a concept? It seems perfectly straightforward to make this inference.

The second way in which Anderson thinks that conceptual competence injustice can occur without speaking is that there are scenarios in which a marginalized person is discredited as a source conceptual knowledge without having said a word; the marginalized person is expected not to know, and their competence with concepts is doubted. Their testimony is never solicited.

This consideration does not distinguish conceptual competence injustice from testimonial injustice because Fricker is clear in acknowledging that this as a possible way that testimonial injustice can manifest. She claims that a significant form of testimonial injustice occurs when prejudice “leads to a tendency for some groups simply not to be asked for information in the first place.” Fricker continues,

This kind of testimonial injustice takes place in silence. It occurs when hearer prejudice does its work in advance of a potential informational exchange: it pre-empts any such exchange. Let us call it pre-emptive testimonial injustice. The credibility of such a person on a given subject matter is already sufficiently in prejudicial deficit that their potential testimony is never solicited; so the speaker is silenced by the identity prejudice that undermines her credibility in advance (2007, 130).

It is clear from this quote that Anderson has failed to distinguish conceptual competence injustice from testimonial injustice on the grounds that testimony is never solicited.

Finally, Anderson claims that conceptual competence injustice is distinct from testimonial injustice because it can exist in purely structural ways that do not involve individual perpetrators. There are two things that we might say here. First, Anderson just doesn’t say enough to convince us this is the case. He merely mentions standardised testing as an example of a structural manifestation of conceptual competence injustice. But, why should we believe this? Anderson moves on without further explanation. Second, Fricker allows for the possibility that “purely structural operations of identity power can control whose would-be contributions become public, and whose do not” (2007, 130). This is the form taken by pre-emptive testimonial injustice. Thus, even if Anderson had made this point convincingly it would not distinguish conceptual competence injustice from testimonial injustice.

We take the above considerations to demonstrate that the grounds on which Anderson attempts to distinguish conceptual competence injustice from testimonial injustice are unsuccessful. This gives us reason to believe that all instances of conceptual competence injustice are accurately characterized by testimonial injustice.

4.2. Hermeneutical Injustice

Anderson also suggests that conceptual competence injustice is not hermeneutical injustice (2017, 216). He makes the strong claim that there can never be an instance where conceptual competence injustice is an instance of hermeneutical injustice. To this claim, we agree that conceptual competence injustice cannot manifest as hermeneutical injustice; as we’ve just argued, we think that all instances of conceptual competence injustice are just instances of testimonial injustice. However, in this subsection we will argue that the grounds on which Anderson attempts to distinguish conceptual competence injustice from hermeneutical injustice are unsuccessful.

Anderson’s interpretation of hermeneutical injustice is that it always involves a lacuna in the collective hermeneutical resource such “that every instance of hermeneutical injustice entails that the relevant crucial concept or word does not yet exist” (2017, 216).  That is, marginalized people cannot render intelligible certain experiences owing to deficiencies in their interpretive assets. Whereas “[i]n every instance of competence injustice, the victim begins with some level of mastery with a concept or word and then their level of mastery is doubted. A fortiori, competence injustice involves the possession of all relevant concepts” (2017, 216). Hence, for Anderson, conceptual competence injustice cannot be hermeneutical injustice; he takes them as fully distinct.

Anderson does not provide us with the full story in his explanation of Fricker’s account of hermeneutical injustice. Anderson is right to say that Fricker’s case of Carmita Wood and the introduction of the concept of sexual harassment captures an instance of a complete lack of conceptual understanding that is then remedied. However, this is just what Fricker calls a ‘maximal’ case; again, it is not a defining case. Fricker has other examples that she calls ‘midway’ and ‘minimal’ cases (2007; 2017). This is where a marginalized person has access to a hermeneutical resource and possesses the relevant concepts that can render intelligible their experience, yet cannot communicate such experiences across social space. In other words, midway cases are those where a social group has sophisticated interpretive assets yet such practices “are not shared with at least one out-group with whom communication is needed” (Fricker 2017, 9).

We acknowledge that Fricker’s original statement of hermeneutical injustice was not as clear as it could have been (2007), and only recently has Fricker provided some clarity on how we should interpret her formulation (2017). Fricker’s rearticulation has come in light of the thoroughly important work of Rebecca Mason (2011), Gaile Pohlhaus Jr. (2012), Kristie Dotson (2012), and José Medina (2013), that has made abundantly clear that hermeneutical injustice can occur even when an agent fully possesses the relevant concepts to render intelligible their experiences. Given Fricker’s rearticulation of hermeneutical injustice, Anderson has not shown that conceptual competence injustice is not hermeneutical injustice.

4.3. Contributory Injustice

Anderson also attempts to differentiate conceptual competence injustice from contributory injustice. Contributory injustice occurs when a marginalized person possesses the hermeneutical resources that are required for her to understand and communicate her experiences, but that this attempt at communication is thwarted by the fact that her interlocutor does not possess the requisite hermeneutical resources. In cases of contributory injustice the reason that the hearer possesses inadequate hermeneutical resources is because of their own willful ignorance; they actively uphold their biased hermeneutical resources in their interpretation of the speaker, rather than accepting that the marginalized speaker has a good grasp of their own experiences or making a concerted effort to understand what the marginalized speaker is saying (Dotson 2012).

Anderson claims that conceptual competence injustice is not contributory injustice because there can be cases of conceptual competence injustice that are not cases of contributory injustice. Anderson provides the following case:

Suppose a white person hears a person of color asserts, “In the United States, racism against white people is impossible.” Suppose also that this white person believes falsely that racism is merely prejudice on the basis of race and that therefore white people can be victims of racism. Upon hearing the conceptual claim that racism against white people is impossible, the white person judges the person of colour to be conceptually incompetent—he thinks that she fails to grasp the concept of racism (Anderson 2017,  218).

Anderson claims that this is not contributory injustice because both people possess the same concept. If we take the person of color and the white person to be working with different concepts of racism, then this would mean that the white person expresses a true belief when they utter “It is possible for black people to be racist against white people in the United States”. This would be a bad result because this utterance is clearly false.

In section 3, we argued that causal etiology matters when it comes to conceptual competence injustice. Because of this, the case that Anderson uses to convince us that conceptual competence injustice is not contributory injustice needs to be re-worked; or else no injustice has been perpetrated. Instead of the white person simply believing that the person of color is not competent with the concept of racism, we must say that the white person does not believe this in virtue of identity prejudice against people of color. However, given this, the re-worked case just looks like an instance of testimonial injustice. This is because the speaker under-ascribes credibility owing to identity prejudice; and this is the essence of testimonial injustice. Hence, Anderson is right to say that the case is not an instance of contributory injustice, however this is because it is a case of testimonial injustice.

If Anderson insists that causal etiology doesn’t matter in cases of conceptual competence injustice, then he must also think that causal etiology doesn’t matter in other cases of epistemic injustice either. It would be ad hoc to insist that causal etiology is significant in some forms of epistemic injustice but not others. Hence, if in the example in which the white person takes the person of color to be incompetent in their grasp of the concept of racism, then Anderson should think that this is just an instance of testimonial injustice absent the prejudicial causal etiology that Fricker (and ourselves) take to be a necessary feature of testimonial injustice.

Either causal etiology matters for all forms of epistemic injustice, in which case this is not a case of epistemic injustice, or causal etiology matters in no forms of epistemic injustice, in which case this is just a case of testimonial injustice.

5. Conceptual Competence Injustice is Not that Useful: A Response to Cruz

Perhaps value can be found in the notion of conceptual competence injustice if there is utility to it that cannot be had from the existing categories of epistemic injustice. To this end, Manuel Padilla Cruz (2017) has suggested that conceptual competence injustice is particularly useful in a relevance theoretical model of linguistic pragmatics. Roughly, relevance theory is the idea that evolution has shaped our cognitive architecture so that we are able to collect and integrate information that enables us to make inferences and judgements relevant to us (Wilson and Sperber 2002). Understanding cognition in this way provides a means to model linguistic pragmatics; communicators presuppose that everyone aims to maximise relevance and in virtue of this speakers can convey, and hearers can infer, information not encoded in utterances. According to Cruz, Anderson’s notion of conceptual competence injustice is a useful way to characterise epistemically harmful pragmatic implicatures. These epistemic harms arise when a speaker makes a lexical mistake, such as misusing a word, and a hearer then infers from the mistake that the speaker has failed to grasp some concept, when they in fact do.

While Anderson (2017b) is receptive to Cruz’s suggestion, he claims that conceptual competence injustice “…must be tempered with the proper understanding of that phenomenon as a structural injustice” (2017b, 36).  Anderson claims that we should not think that at any time there is a lexical mistake and subsequent implicature of speaker incompetence there is an occurrence of conceptual competence injustice. This is because the relationship between relevance theory and conceptual competence injustice “cannot be accurately characterized merely as the result of a certain type of pragmatic inference without specifying facts about the social identities of the speakers and hearers involved, together with facts about the structure of their social circumstances” (2017b, 36). We think that Anderson is correct to push Cruz on this point.

In addition to Anderson’s comments on Cruz’s suggestion, we also want to comment on the lack of clarity in where Cruz is locating the epistemic injustice in his discussion.  In making his case, Cruz claims that speakers are not always fully competent in a language, perhaps because they are non-native speakers. Consequently, they may lack or misuse vocabulary. This might lead the hearer to make harmful inferences about the speaker’s competence.  Cruz claims that this constitutes an epistemic injustice since “the speaker would be degraded as a knower of a language in some respects…” (Cruz 2017, 17).

What in particular is the inference that the speaker makes that is unjust? Let’s consider two possibilities. Firstly, suppose that in conversation with a person born and raised in Germany, Holly, as a non-native German speaker, misuses some particular word from which her German interlocutor infers that she is not wholly competent in her use of that word. Whether or not this leads Holly to doubt her abilities to speak German, it seems to us that Holly’s German interlocutor has not put a foot wrong in making this inference. After all, Holly has just made a mistake.

If instead the inference that Cruz has in mind is an inference made by the hearer from a speaker’s one off lexical mistake, to the speaker having some more general intellectual incompetence, then this might reasonably be characterised as an injustice. Consider a re-working of the example above: Holly misuses a German word when in conversation with a native German speaker, who happens to be a man. From Holly’s particular mistake, the man infers that Holly lacks the intellectual capabilities required to become a competent speaker of German because he has a prejudice against the intellectual capacities of women. It is an empirical matter whether or not this kind of inference is ever made.

If it is made, then the epistemic injustice that it constitutes is not conceptual competence injustice as theorised by Anderson. Rather, it is some broader intellectual incompetence attribution. But, even then, this might very well be accounted for by Fricker (2007). The attribution of broad intellectual incompetences to particular social groups looks as though it collapses into what Fricker calls “negative-identity-prejudicial stereotypes” that are operative in the perpetration of testimonial injustice: a widely held disparaging association between a social group and one or more attribute (Fricker 2007, 35).

In his response to Cruz, Anderson discusses the ways in which relevance theory possesses resources that can usefully allow us to model the ways in which the interests of individuals and groups shape patterns of epistemic injustice (see Anderson 2017b, 36-38). This looks promising to us, though it must be said that we are no experts in relevance theory. However, while relevance theory might be useful in modelling patterns of epistemic injustice, it is far from obvious that conceptual incompetence injustice is useful in illuminating epistemic injustices that arise from harmful pragmatic implicatures of the lexical mistakes of speakers.

6. Conclusion

To recount what we have achieved in this paper: we have shown that Anderson’s reasons for thinking that conceptual competence injustice is distinct from other forms of epistemic injustice are ultimately unsuccessful. We have argued that conceptual competence injustice is accurately accounted for by testimonial injustice. Finally, we have argued that the purported usefulness of conceptual competence injustice in linguistic pragmatics is doubtful, especially because any epistemic injustice of the kind specified by Cruz can also be accounted for by testimonial injustice.

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Soames, Scott. 2002. Beyond Rigidity: The Unfinished Semantic Agenda of Naming and Necessity. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, Deirdre, and Dan Sperber. 2004. “Relevance Theory.” In The Handbook of Pragmatics, edited by Larry Horn and Gregory Ward, 607-632. Oxford: Blackwell.

[1] This paper was fully collaborative; the order does not represent amount of contribution.

Author Information: Moti Mizrahi, Florida Institute of Technology, mmizrahi@fit.edu

Mizrahi, Moti. “In Defense of Weak Scientism: A Reply to Brown.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 11 (2017): 9-22.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3Nz

Please refer to:

Image credit: /\ \/\/ /\, via flickr

In “What’s So Bad about Scientism?” (Mizrahi 2017), I argue that Weak Scientism, the view that “Of all the knowledge we have, scientific knowledge is the best knowledge” (Mizrahi 2017, 354; emphasis in original) is a defensible position. That is to say, Weak Scientism “can be successfully defended against objections” (Mizrahi 2017, 354). In his response to Mizrahi (2017), Christopher Brown (2017) provides more objections against Weak Scientism, and thus another opportunity for me to show that Weak Scientism is a defensible position, which is what I will do in this reply. In fact, I think that I have already addressed Brown’s (2017) objections in Mizrahi (2017), so I will simply highlight these arguments here.

In particular, Brown’s (2017) objections consist of raising the following questions as challenges to my defense of Weak Scientism:

1. Is Weak Scientism strong enough to count as scientism?
2. Does Weak Scientism entail that philosophy is useless?
3. Does my defense of Weak Scientism rest on controversial philosophical assumptions?
3. Is my argument in defense of Weak Scientism a philosophical or a scientific argument?
5. Why think that deductive rules of inference cannot be proved valid in a non-circular way?
6. What’s wrong with persuasive definitions of scientism?

In what follows, I will address these challenges in order. I will argue that Brown’s (2017) attempt to cast doubt on my defense of Weak Scientism fails to undermine it; Weak Scientism remains a defensible position and the one that advocates of scientism should hold.

Before I get into the details of Brown’s (2017) objections, I would like to make a general point about his argumentative strategy. Brown’s objections to my defense of Weak Scientism consist of casting doubt on my defense by entertaining alternative possibilities or “what ifs.” For example, in an attempt to undermine the bibliometric data on research output and research impact, which show that “scientific knowledge is better—in terms of research output (i.e. more publications) and research impact (i.e. more citations)—than non-scientific knowledge” (Mizrahi 2017, 358), Brown (2017, 47) invites us to consider the possibility that (following Papineau 2017) “it is simply harder to arrive at philosophical knowledge than scientific knowledge” or that (following Aristotle) “a little knowledge about the noblest things is more desirable than a lot of knowledge about less noble things” (Brown 2017, 48). But why think that it is harder to produce philosophical knowledge than scientific knowledge? Brown does not tell us.

If anything, producing scientific knowledge typically takes more time, effort, money, people, and resources (think of large-scale scientific projects, such as the Human Genome Project and the Large Hadron Collider). This means that scientific knowledge is harder to produce than non-scientific knowledge. And why think that the “Aristotelian epistemological axiom: less certain knowledge […] about a nobler subject […] is, all other things being equal, more valuable than more certain knowledge […] about a less noble subject” (Brown 2017, 50) is true? Brown does not tell us. Nor does he tell us what it even means for one item of knowledge to be more or less “noble” than another. Isn’t knowledge of the origin of life and the universe “noble” enough? Perhaps Aristotle is wrong and Kant is right that knowledge about “the starry heavens above” is just as noble as knowledge about “the moral law within” (Kant 1788/2015, 129).

My general point, then, is that Brown’s (2017) argumentative strategy of casting doubt on my defense of Weak Scientism by entertaining alternative possibilities is not sufficient to undermine my defense. In order to pose a serious challenge to my defense of Weak Scientism, Brown must come up with more than mere “what ifs,” especially since the question of whether scientific knowledge is superior to non-scientific knowledge is a question that can be answered empirically. That is, we can compare the track record of scientific disciplines to that of non-scientific disciplines in order to find out which has been more successful in terms of producing knowledge (Mizrahi 2017, 355-356). As far as the track record of philosophy is concerned, for instance, it is “a track record that is marked by an abundance of alternative theories and serious problems for those theories” (Mizrahi 2016, 205). Brown (2017, 49) will insist that “philosophical methodologies […] differ in kind from the consensus-inviting methodologies of empirical science,” but many philosophers would probably disagree with that, for they see the lack of consensus, and thus progress, in philosophy as a serious problem (see, e.g., Chalmers 2015).[1]

1. Is Weak Scientism strong enough to count as scientism?

For Brown (2017, 42), the answer to the first question is “no” because “one could accept Weak Scientism and not only agree that philosophical knowledge exists (as Mizrahi notes), but also think philosophical knowledge is extremely valuable, indeed, nearly as valuable as scientific knowledge itself.” Even if Brown (2017) is right about this, it is not clear how it is supposed to follow from this that Weak Scientism is not “really” scientism, or that it is not strong enough to count as scientism. After all, one of the problems with the scientism debate is precisely the meaning of the term ‘scientism’ (Mizrahi 2017, 351-353). Without a clear understanding of what scientism is, and Brown (2017) does not provide one, it is not clear on what grounds Brown can say what is “really” scientism and what is not “really” scientism.

Brown (2017, 42) also argues that Weak Scientism is not “really” scientism because “traditional advocates of scientism, such as Alex Rosenberg (see, e.g., 2011),” and “those who think philosophy is useless, such as Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (see, e.g., 2010),” would find Weak Scientism not “quite strong enough to communicate their own (negative) attitudes toward philosophy or philosophical knowledge or non-scientific forms of knowledge more generally.” As I point out in Mizrahi (2017, 353), however,

the focus of this paper [Mizrahi (2017)] is not what self-professed adherents of scientism actually say or have said. Rather, the focus of this paper [Mizrahi (2017)] is what an adherent of scientism should say. In other words, the aim of this paper is to articulate a defensible definition of scientism to replace the straw man that is (SP) [i.e., “Scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture” (Sorell 2013, x)].

And even if Brown (2017, 42) is right about “traditional advocates of scientism” finding Weak Scientism not strong enough for their taste, it is not clear how this is supposed to imply that Weak Scientism is not “really” scientism, or that it is not strong enough to count as scientism. After all, if the (negative) attitudes toward non-scientific knowledge of Rosenberg, Hawking, and others are indefensible or unwarranted, then they should revise their attitudes. Their attitudes do not determine what scientism is, for scientism is an epistemological thesis, not a psychological one (Peels 2017).

For these reasons, Brown (2017) fails to provide good reasons for thinking that the answer to the first question is “no.” Indeed, Peels (2017, 10) finds my Weak Scientism “fairly strong,” for it is the view that scientific knowledge is simply the best; better than all the rest (to borrow from Tina Turner). Whether “traditional advocates of scientism” (Brown 2017, 42) would accept Weak Scientism is beside the point. As far as my defense of Weak Scientism is concerned (Mizrahi 2017), what matters is what they should accept (given the evidence in support of Weak Scientism).

2. Does Weak Scientism entail that philosophy is useless?

Brown (2017) points out that Weak Scientism does not entail that philosophy is useless. He is right about that, of course, but I do not set out to defend the charge that philosophy is useless in Mizrahi (2017). Rather, in Mizrahi (2017), I set out to defend Weak Scientism. In fact, I explicitly say that (Mizrahi 2017, 356):

It is also important to keep in mind that Weak Scientism does not amount to a denial of non-scientific knowledge. On Weak Scientism, there is knowledge other than scientific knowledge; it’s just that scientific knowledge is better than non-scientific knowledge.

According to Weak Scientism, of all the academic knowledge produced by academic disciplines, including scientific disciplines like astrophysics and non-scientific disciplines like philosophy, scientific knowledge is the best knowledge we have (emphasis in original).

Accordingly, to object to my argument in defense of Weak Scientism by complaining that Weak Scientism does not entail that philosophy is useless is to misunderstand my overall argument in Mizrahi (2017).

So I agree with Brown (2017) that the answer to the second question is “no.” But that’s because I have no interest in defending the charge that philosophy is useless. In Mizrahi (2017), my aim is to show that Weak Scientism is defensible. If I am right, then Weak Scientism is how we should understand scientism as an epistemological thesis, regardless of whether scientism has been understood in this way by parties to the scientism debate in philosophy.

3. Does my defense of Weak Scientism rest on controversial philosophical assumptions?

Brown (2017, 44) thinks that my defense of Weak Scientism rests on a few “controversial philosophical assumptions.” According to Brown (2017), I “assume” that

(a). Work produced by professional philosophers is a proxy for philosophical knowledge.
(b). The scientism debate in philosophy is about academic knowledge produced by academic disciplines.
(c). Academic knowledge produced by academic disciplines can be measured.
(d). Publications are reliable indicators of academic knowledge produced by academic disciplines.
(e). Journal articles are reliable indicators of academic knowledge produced by academic disciplines.
(f). Academic knowledge produced by academic disciplines can be treated equally for the purpose of quantitative comparisons.
(g). One theory can be said to be qualitatively better than another.
(h). One theory can be said to be qualitatively better than another in terms of its explanatory, predictive, and instrumental success.
(i). Academic knowledge produced by academic disciplines can be treated equally for the purpose of qualitative comparisons.

Now, is it accurate to say that (a)-(i) are “controversial philosophical assumptions”? If so, in what sense are (a)-(i) “controversial philosophical assumptions”?

First, to call (a)-(i) “assumptions” is inaccurate and uncharitable, since an assumption is a statement that is taken as true without justification or support. In Mizrahi (2017), however, I do provide some support for (a)-(i). For example, in support of (a), I say the following (Mizrahi 2017, 356):

As Baggini and Stangroom (2005, 6) point out, this ‘question [namely, what exactly makes something philosophy?] is too large to be properly answered [in a book],’ let alone a journal article. Sytsma and Livengood (2016, Ch. 2), for example, discuss six competing accounts of what makes something philosophical. This is why, for the purposes of this paper, I have operationalized ‘philosophy’ as simply ‘what [professional] philosophers do’ (Sparshott 1998, 20). Arguably, as far as answering the question ‘What makes X philosophical?’ goes, that may be the best we can do (Lauer 1989, 16).

In other words, I argue that we should operationalize “X is a work of philosophy” as “X is produced by professional philosopher(s)” because that is the best we can do; all the other accounts of what makes X philosophical are problematic. Contrary to what Brown seems to think, then, I have operationalized “X is a work of philosophy” in the least controversial way (see Sytsma and Livengood 2016, Ch. 2). Now, Brown may find this unsatisfactory and he may disagree with what I say in support of (a)-(i), but that does not change the fact that I do support these statements. To call them “assumptions,” then, is inaccurate and uncharitable.

Second, Brown criticizes what I count as work in philosophy but he does not offer an alternative account for what counts as philosophy. He simply asserts, without argument, that my so-called “assumptions” are philosophical. But he does not tell us what makes something philosophical. Since he objects to my operationalization of what is philosophical in terms of what professional philosophers produce, I suppose he would not want to appeal to it as an account of what makes something philosophical. In that case, it is not clear on what grounds Brown can claim that (a)-(i) are “philosophical.”

In that respect, it is worth noting how strange it looks for someone who wants to defend philosophy from accusations of uselessness to object to (a). After all, if one wants to show that work in philosophy is useful, one should want to be able to show that work done by professional philosophers is useful in some sense. Accordingly, whether he accepts (a) or not, Brown should accept (a) insofar as he wants to defend philosophy from accusations of uselessness, since by showing that the work of professional philosophers is useful, he could thereby show that philosophy is useful.

Third, just as he asserts without argument that (a)-(i) are “philosophical assumptions,” Brown also asserts without much argument that (a)-(i) are “controversial assumptions.” Take, for instance, his discussion of (a). He simply asserts, without argument, that my way of thinking about knowledge is “philosophically controversial” (Brown 2017, 44), but he does not tell us why it is controversial (or why it is philosophical, for that matter). As I point out in Mizrahi (2017, 353), the way I have characterized knowledge is exactly the way others in the scientism debate understand knowledge (see, e.g., Peels 2016, 2462), which means that my characterization of knowledge is not controversial as far as the scientism debate in philosophy is concerned.

Likewise, in his discussion of my alleged “third assumption,” namely, (c), Brown (2017, 45) simply asserts, without argument, that “thinking we can measure quantitatively the amount of knowledge across academic disciplines is itself philosophically controversial” (emphasis in original). He does not tell us what makes this alleged “assumption” philosophical. Nor does he tell us what makes this alleged “assumption” controversial. In fact, that we can measure the research output of academic fields is not “contentious” (Brown 2017, 45) at all. This so-called “assumption” is accepted by many researchers across disciplines, including philosophy (see, e.g., Kreuzman 2001 and Morrow & Sula 2011), and it has led to fruitful work in library and information science, bibliometrics, scientometrics, data science (Andres 2009), and philosophy (see, e.g., Wray & Bornmann 2015 and Ashton & Mizrahi 2017).[2]

Brown (2017) seems to think that any statement that can be subjected to doubt is thereby controversial. For in his discussion of my alleged “controversial assumptions,” he entertains possibilities that would (if true) cast doubt on them. For instance, in his discussion of (d), Brown (2017, 46) suggests that teaching could be “a means of passing on knowledge.” Brown seems to be confusing here “passing on knowledge” or sharing knowledge with producing knowledge. As far as the scientism debate is concerned, and the charge that philosophy is useless, the question is whether the methodologies of the sciences are superior to those of other fields in terms of producing knowledge, not in terms of sharing knowledge. After all, philosophy, or the humanities in general, do not have a monopoly on teaching. Teaching occurs in science departments as well, of course. As Beale (2017, 67) puts it, the scientism debate is about “the idea that science, or the scientific method, is superior to all other modes of inquiry.”

Even if Brown (2017) is right about teaching somehow being a mode of inquiry distinct from science, the mere fact that one can cast doubt on a statement does not mean that the statement is controversial. By this criterion, the claim that Barack Obama is a United States citizen is controversial because some persistently doubt it and refuse to believe that he was born in Hawai’i. Likewise, the claim that there is an external world would also be controversial, on Brown’s criterion of controversy in terms of casting doubt, for what if we are all brains in vats. In other words, there is a difference between being doubtful and being controversial. Simply casting doubt on (a)-(i) is not sufficient for making them controversial.

In fact, Brown’s (2017) criterion for controversy in terms of casting doubt would make all of philosophy controversial, and thus objectionable by his own lights. For he tries to show that “a number of serious philosophical objections remain for the argumentative strategy Mizrahi employs to defend Weak Scientism” (Brown 2017, 50) by casting doubt on the premises of my argument, and then claim that they are controversial. But if being doubtful makes a claim controversial, then almost all of philosophy would be controversial, since almost all philosophical theories can be, and have been, subjected to doubt (Mizrahi 2016). Given the track record of philosophy, and Brown’s criterion of controversy in terms of casting doubt, then, we would have to conclude that most philosophical theories are controversial. This is a result that Brown would not want to accept, I take it.

For these reasons, Brown (2017) fails to provide good reasons for thinking that the answer to the third question is “yes.” What Brown labels as “assumptions” are not really assumptions, since I do support the statements he thinks are “assumptions.” What Brown labels as “philosophical” is not really philosophical, or at least he is not in a position to claim that it is philosophical, since he does not tell us what makes something philosophical (other than being work produced by professional philosophers, which is a characterization of “philosophical” that he rejects). What he labels as “controversial” is not really controversial, or at least Brown does not give us a good reason to think that, since simply finding ways to cast doubt on a statement is not sufficient for making it controversial.

4. Is my argument in defense of Weak Scientism a philosophical or a scientific argument?

To Brown (2017, 51), my “argument [in defense of Weak Scientism] rather looks like a philosophical argument” (emphasis added). As I have mentioned above, however, Brown does not give us an account of what makes something philosophical, and he rejects my operationalization of the philosophical as that which professional philosophers do, so it is not clear on what grounds Brown can assert that my argument is philosophical (other than the fact that it simply “looks like” a philosophical argument to him). As I point out in (Mizrahi 2017, 356), “just as the mere fact that an argument (e.g. William Lane Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument) draws on scientific theories (e.g. the Big Bang theory) does not make that argument a scientific argument, the mere fact that an argument draws on philosophical assumptions does not make that argument a philosophical argument” (emphasis in original).

In another place, rather than claim that my argument “looks like a philosophical argument” (Brown 2017, 51) to him, Brown suggests that my argument is not scientific. As Brown (2017, 51) writes, “in order for Mizrahi’s argument for Weak Scientism to count as science, the background philosophical assumptions he employs need to be largely uncontroversial for the community of thinkers to which his argument is addressed” (emphasis in original). Brown seems to think that an argument is scientific only if an audience of peers finds the premises of that argument uncontroversial.

As I have mentioned above, Brown’s criterion for what makes something controversial (in terms of casting doubt) is too broad, since it makes anything that can be doubted controversial. But let us grant, for the sake of argument, Brown’s criterion of controversy and consider the following common scenario. A scientist presents a paper at a conference. Based on the results of her research, she argues that p. The audience, which consists of her academic peers, raises questions about her methods, findings, and conclusion during the Q&A session. On Brown’s criterion of controversy, the premises of the scientist’s argument are controversial, since they are met with doubt from the audience. And on Brown’s condition for an argument being scientific, the scientist’s argument is not scientific, since her audience does not find the premises of her argument uncontroversial.

To give a concrete example from the history of science, on Brown’s criteria for “controversial” and “scientific argument,” Darwin’s The Origin of Species contains no scientific arguments, since it was met with criticism, doubt, and even “controversy” in the scientific community following its publication in 1859 (Francis 2007, 61-76). A more recent example is string theory. On Brown’s criteria for “controversial” and “scientific argument,” we would have to say that arguments for string theory are not scientific arguments, despite the fact that the arguments for the theory are put forth by physicists (e.g., Edward Witten), the theory is supposed to explain natural phenomena (e.g., strong nuclear force and interactions), it incorporates other scientific theories (e.g., general relativity), it guides scientific research in physics (Becker et al. 2007), and it is currently being tested experimentally (e.g., at the Optical Search for QED Vacuum Bifringence, Axions and Photon Regeneration experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider).

Accordingly, Brown’s (2017) criterion of controversy and his necessary condition for an argument being scientific have the absurd consequence that arguments presented by scientists at scientific conferences (or published in scientific journals and books) are not scientific arguments unless they are met with unquestioned acceptance by peer audiences. For these reasons, Brown fails to show that my argument in defense of Weak Scientism is a philosophical argument or that it is not a scientific argument.

5. Why think that deductive rules of inference cannot be proved valid in a non-circular way?

One of the objections I defend Weak Scientism from in Mizrahi (2017) is the charge of vicious circularity. The charge of vicious circularity is this (Mizrahi 2017, 355):

(O2) It is viciously circular to support Weak Scientism with scientific evidence (emphasis in original).

In defense of Weak Scientism against (O2), I said that (Mizrahi 2017, 362):

the problem with (O2) is that it is not an objection against Weak Scientism per se but against any inferential way of knowing. This is because even “deductive inference is only defensible by appeal to deductive inference” (Ladyman 2002, 49), as Lewis Carroll’s “What the Tortoise said to Achilles” (1895) makes clear (emphasis in original).

In other words, if (O2) were true, then producing knowledge by inference would be viciously circular, whether in science, philosophy, or any other field.

Now, Brown’s (2017, 52) objection against my defense of Weak Scientism from (O2) consists in raising the possibility that “we come to know the validity of deductive rules of inference such as modus ponens” in “some non-inferential mode.” As I have already pointed out in Mizrahi (2017), however, to say that rules of inference can be known to be valid “by some non-inferential mode of knowing” (Brown 2017, 52), such as intuition, is to give up on the attempt to prove the validity of rules of inference, since a proof just is a deductively valid argument, i.e., an inference in which the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises (Mizrahi 2017, 362-363), whereas an intuition, whatever it is (Mizrahi 2014), is not a deductively valid argument.

Moreover, recall that Brown’s criterion for a statement being controversial is that the statement can be subjected to doubt. By this criterion, then, Brown’s (2017, 52) claim that “we come to know the validity of deductive rules of inference such as modus ponens” in “some non-inferential mode” is doubtful, and thus controversial. This is because there are putative counterexamples to deductive rules of inference, such as modus ponens (Lycan 1994), as well as to argument forms that are taken to be deductively valid, such as hypothetical syllogism (Mizrahi 2013), i.e., examples of arguments that should be valid, if modus ponens and hypothetical syllogism are valid, but that seem invalid, as I point out in Mizrahi (2017).

Accordingly, Brown (2017) fails to show that deductive rules of inference can be proved valid without relying on those very rules of inference (Psillos 1999, 86). For this reason, his objection against my defense of Weak Scientism from (O2) misses the mark.

6. What’s wrong with persuasive definitions of scientism?

In Mizrahi (2017), I argue that (SP) [i.e., “Scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture” (Sorell 2013, x)] is a persuasive definition of scientism. In my discussion of persuasive definitions, I give the example of defining abortion as murder as an example of a persuasive definition (Mizrahi 2017, 352). Brown (2017, 52) uses this example in his attempt to show that persuasive definitions could be the “conclusions of deductive arguments.” Of course, not all deductive arguments are good arguments. A deductive argument can be invalid or unsound. But let’s look at Brown’s argument for the conclusion that “abortion is murder” in order to see if it avoids transferring “emotive force” (Salmon 2013, 65), “condemning […] the subject matter of the definiendum” (Hurley 2015, 101), or “presupposing an unaccepted definition” (Macagno & Walton 2014, 205).

Brown’s (2017, 53) argument for the persuasive definition “abortion is murder” runs as follows:

14. Abortion is the direct killing of a human being.
15. The human fetus is an innocent person.
16. Therefore, abortion is the direct killing of an innocent person [from (14) and (15)].
17. The direct killing of an innocent person is murder.
18. Therefore, abortion is murder [from (16) and (17)].

Now, Brown may have intended this argument to be a deductive argument, but it is not valid. Notice the unwarranted shift from “human being” in (14) to “person” in (15), and then in (16). The former is a biological term for a member of the species Homo sapiens, whereas the latter is a legal term that comes with rights, such as the right to life. This, of course, is one of the key issues in the abortion debate, i.e., whether human fetuses are human persons that have a right to life. To simply assume that as a premise in an argument for the conclusion that “abortion is murder” is to presuppose “an unaccepted definition” (Macagno & Walton 2014, 205). So, unless we assume that “human being” and “person” mean the same thing, which they don’t, (16) does not necessarily follows from (14) and (15), and thus Brown’s argument for “abortion is murder” is invalid due to this equivocation on “human being” and “person.”

Moreover, notice how the emotionally charged term “innocent” is smuggled into (15). In what sense can a fetus be said to be “innocent,” i.e., not guilty of a crime or offense? Perhaps a fetus can be said to be innocent only in the trivial sense that it is incapable of committing crimes, given that it is unborn and still developing. But in that case, by using the emotionally charged term “innocent,” (15) still transfers “emotive force” (Salmon 2013, 65) and condemns “the subject matter of the definiendum” (Hurley 2015, 101). It might be argued that the fetus can be considered innocent (or not) insofar as it can endanger the life of the mother as in the case of life-threatening pregnancies, such as an ectopic pregnancy. But in that case, the fetus could be considered guilty of the crime of reckless endangerment (i.e., acting in ways that put another person at risk of injury or death), and hence not innocent.

Brown’s (2017, 53) argument for the persuasive definition of scientism, according to which “Scientism is the view that commits its advocates to putting too high a value on—or having an exaggerated confidence in—science,” suffers from the same problems as his abortion argument.

19. Scientism is the view that science is the only, or best, kind of knowledge.
20. Therefore, if scientific knowledge is not the only, or best, kind of knowledge, then scientism is a view that commits its advocates to putting too high a value on—or having an exaggerated confidence in—science [from (19)].
21. If p, then scientific knowledge is not the only, or best, kind of knowledge.
22. p.
23. Therefore, scientific knowledge is not the only, or best, kind of knowledge [from (21) and (22), MP].
24. Therefore, scientism is a view that commits its advocates to putting too high a value on—or having an exaggerated confidence in—science [from (20) and (23), MP] (Brown 2017, 53).

In particular, notice the equivocation on “only” and “best,” which makes the argument invalid. Strong Scientism is the view that “Of all the knowledge we have, scientific knowledge is the only ‘real knowledge’” (Mizrahi 2017, 353; emphasis in original), whereas Weak Scientism is the view that “Of all the knowledge we have, scientific knowledge is the best knowledge” (Mizrahi 2017, 354; emphasis in original). In Mizrahi (2017), I set out to defend the latter, not the former. This means that Brown’s conditional in (20), namely, “if scientific knowledge is not the only, or the best, kind of knowledge, then scientism is a view that commits its advocates to putting too high a value on—or having an exaggerated confidence in—science,” is misleading.

If Strong Scientism were false, i.e., if it were not the case that scientific knowledge is the only real knowledge, then it would follow that non-scientific knowledge is also real knowledge. And from that it would follow that confidence in scientific knowledge alone, to the exclusion of non-scientific knowledge, which is also real (as we are assuming now, for the sake of argument), would be exaggerated. For it would be a mistake to ignore non-scientific knowledge if it were just as real as scientific knowledge.

But if Weak Scientism were false, i.e., if it were not the case that scientific knowledge is the best knowledge, then it would follow that non-scientific knowledge is just as good as scientific knowledge. But from that it would not follow that confidence in scientific knowledge over non-scientific knowledge would be exaggerated. For, if two equally good options are available, it is not a mistake to prefer one to the other. As I have argued in Mizrahi (2017, 352), one would have to show, rather than make it true by definition, that preferring one (scientific knowledge) to the other (non-scientific knowledge) is a mistake.

Of course, Brown (2017, 53) simply assumes, without argument, that there is some item of knowledge, which he labels p in premise (22), that is both non-scientific and better than scientific knowledge. Given that the scientism debate is precisely about whether scientific knowledge is superior to non-scientific knowledge, one cannot simply assume that non-scientific knowledge is better than scientific knowledge without begging the question.

For these reasons, Brown’s attempt to show that a persuasive definition of scientism, such as the one I criticize in Mizrahi (2017, 352), can be the conclusion of a valid deductive argument fails. In addition to equivocating on “only” and “best,” the premises of Brown’s argument for a persuasive definition of scientism still transfer “emotive force” (Salmon 2013, 65) and condemn “the subject matter of the definiendum” (Hurley 2015, 101) by using locutions like “putting too high a value on” and “exaggerated confidence” (cf. Mizrahi 2017, 352). They also presuppose “an unaccepted definition” (Macagno & Walton 2014, 205) by assuming, without argument, that there is some piece of knowledge, p, that is both non-scientific and better than scientific knowledge.

Conclusion

To sum up, I have defended Weak Scientism from Brown’s (2017) objections, and thereby have shown again that Weak Scientism is a defensible position, which is what I have set out to do in Mizrahi (2017). I would like to end this reply to Brown (2017) by pointing out what I take to be a glaring omission in his discussion of my defense of Weak Scientism. Even though Brown (2017, 49) admits that, like good scientific theories, “good philosophical theories explain things” (emphasis in original), he does not tell us what makes an explanation a good explanation. As I point out in Mizrahi (2017, 360), the good-making properties of explanations include unification, coherence, simplicity, and testability. Contrary to what Brown (2017, 48) seems to think, these good-making properties apply to explanations in general, not just to scientific explanations in particular. Indeed, almost any introductory textbook on logic and critical thinking, including those written by philosophers, includes a chapter on Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) where these properties are discussed. For example, according to Sinnott-Armstrong and Fogelin (2010, 257), “common standards for assessing explanations [include] falsifiability [i.e., testability], conservativeness [i.e., coherence], modesty, simplicity, power [i.e., unification], and depth.”[3]

So, if “good philosophical theories explain things,” as Brown (2017, 49) admits, and if good explanations are those that exhibit the properties of unification, coherence, simplicity, and testability, then it follows that good philosophical explanations must have these properties as well. Contrary to what Brown asserts without argument, then, “To think that a theory T is successful only if—or to the extent that—it enjoys predictive success or testability” is not to beg the question against non-scientific ways of knowing. For, insofar as non-scientific ways of knowing employ IBE, which Brown admits is the case as far as philosophy is concerned, then their explanations must be testable (as well as unified, coherent, and simple) if they are to be good explanations. This is the glaring omission in Brown’s (2017) discussion of my defense of Weak Scientism; he does not address this argument from IBE: “if IBE is ubiquitous in scientific and non-scientific reasoning, and good explanations are those that are comprehensive, coherent, simple, and testable, then it follows that, in both scientific and non-scientific contexts, the best explanations are those that are comprehensive, coherent, simple, and testable explanations” (Mizrahi 2017, 362).[4] As I argue in Mizrahi (2017), and as Sinnott-Armstrong and Fogelin (2010, 259) point out as well, IBE is everywhere.[5] So everyone is in the business of producing good explanations, but science is simply the best; better than all the rest.

Acknowledgments

I am grateful to James Collier for inviting me to reply to Brown’s “Some Objections to Moti Mizrahi’s ‘What’s so Bad about Scientism?’” (2017).

References

Andrés, Ana. Measuring Academic Research: How to Undertake a Bibliometric Study. Oxford: Chandos Publishing, 2009.

Ashton, Zoe. and Moti Mizrahi. “Intuition Talk Is Not Methodologically Cheap: Empirically Testing the ‘Received Wisdom’ about Armchair Philosophy.” Erkenntnis (2017):  doi 10.1007/s10670-017-9904-4.

Baggini, Julian and Jeremy Stangroom. “Introduction.” In What Philosophers Think, edited by Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom, 1-10. London: Continuum, 2005.

Beale, Jonathan. “Wittgenstein’s Anti-scientistic Worldview.” In Wittgenstein and Scientism, edited by Jonathan Beale and I. J. Kidd, 59-80. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Becker, Katrin, Melanie Becker, and  John H. Schwarz. String Theory and M-Theory: A Modern Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Brown, Christopher M. “Some Objections to Moti Mizrahi’s ‘What’s So Bad about Scientism?’” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 8 (2017): 42-54.

Carroll, Lewis. “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles.” Mind 4, no. 14 (1895): 278–280.

Chalmers, David. “Why Isn’t There More Progress in Philosophy?” Philosophy 90, no. 1 (2015): 3-31.

Douven, Igor. “Abduction.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Summer 2017 Edition. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/ abduction/.

Francis, Keith. A. Charles Darwin and The Origin of Species. London: Greenwood Press, 2007.

Govier, Trudy. A Practical Study of Argument. Seventh Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010.

Harman, Gilbert H. “The Inference to the Best Explanation.” Philosophical Review 74, no. 1 (1965): 88-95.

Hawking, Stephen and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Bantam Books, 2010.

Hendrickson, Noel, Kirk St. Amant, William J. Hawk, William O’Meara, and Daniel E. Flage. The Rowman & Littlefield Handbook for Critical Thinking. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

Hurley, Patrick J. A Concise Introduction to Logic. 12th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning. 2015.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Practical Reason. Translated and edited by Mary Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1788/2015.

Kreuzman, Henry. “A Co-Citation Analysis of Representative Authors in Philosophy: Examining the Relationship between Epistemologists and Philosophers of Science.” Scientometrics 51, no. 3 (2001): 525-539.

Ladyman, James. Understanding Philosophy of Science. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Lauer, Quentin. The Nature of Philosophical Inquiry. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1989.

Lycan, William. G. “Reply to Hilary Kornblith.” Philosophical Studies 76, no. 2/3 (1994): 259–261.

Macagno, Fabrizio and Douglas Walton. Emotive Language in Argumentation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Mizrahi, Moti. “Why the Ultimate Argument for Scientific Realism Ultimately Fails.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 43, no. 1 (2012): 132-138.

Mizrahi, Moti. “Why Hypothetical Syllogism is Invalid for Indicative Conditionals.” Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 2, no. 1 (2013): 40–43.

Mizrahi, Moti. “Does the Method of Cases Rest on a Mistake?” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 5, no. 2 (2014): 183-197.

Mizrahi, Moti. “Why Be an Intellectually Humble Philosopher?” Axiomathes 28, no. 4 (2016): 425-436.

Mizrahi, Moti. “What’s So Bad about Scientism?” Social Epistemology 31, no. 4 (2017): 351-367.

Morrow, David R., and Charles Alen Sula. “Naturalized Metaphilosophy.” Synthese 182, no. 2 (2011): 297-313.

Papineau, David. “Is Philosophy Simply Harder than Science?” The Times Literary Supplement Online. June 1, 2017. https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/philosophy-simply-harder-science/.

Peels, Rik. “The Empirical Case Against Introspection.” Philosophical Studies 17, no. 9 (2016): 2461-2485.

Peels, Rik. “Ten Reasons to Embrace Scientism.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 63 (2017): 11-21.

Psillos, Stathis. Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth. London: Routledge, 1999.

Rosenberg, Alex. The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011.

Rudinow, Joel and Vincent E. Barry. Invitation to Critical Thinking. Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2008.

Salmon, Merrilee. Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2013.

Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter and Robert J. Fogelin. Understanding Arguments: An Introduction to Informal Logic. Eighth Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010.

Sorell, Tom. Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science. London: Routledge, 2013.

Sparshott, Francis. The Future of Aesthetics: The 1996 Ryle Lectures. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Sytsma, Justin and Jonathan Livengood. The Theory and Practice of Experimental Philosophy. Ontario: Broadview Press, 2016.

Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy: A Text with Readings. Twelfth Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012.

Wray, Brad K. and Lutz Bornmann. “Philosophy of Science Viewed through the Lense of ‘Referenced Publication Years Spectroscopy’.” Scientometrics 102, no. 3 (2015): 1987-1996.

[1] There is a “Disagreement in Philosophy” subcategory on PhilPapers (under Metaphilosophy) that contains 92 papers (as of August 26, 2017).

[2] These remarks apply to the alleged “sixth controversial philosophical assumption,” namely, (f) as well. As I point out in Mizrahi (2017), epistemologists are doing pretty much the same thing when they treat propositional knowledge equally in their analyses of knowledge. That is, “in the same way that epistemologists bracket the content of a proposition when they theorize about propositional knowledge, i.e. knowing that p, and treat all propositional knowledge equally, information scientists who use bibliometric techniques to study scientific knowledge can bracket the propositional content of that knowledge and treat each piece of knowledge (measured in terms of publications, citations, and the like) equally” (Mizrahi 2017, 362).

[3] See also Rudinow & Barry (2008, 266-269), Hendrickson et al. (2008, 76), Govier (2010, 298-302), Velasquez (2012, 71-73), and Douven (2017).

[4] In Mizrahi (2017), I discuss two failed attempts to use IBE in philosophy: an IBE for the Real World Hypothesis (Mizrahi 2017, 358-359) and an IBE for scientific realism (Mizrahi 2017, 360-361). For more on the latter, see also Mizrahi (2012).

[5] See also Harman (1965) and Douven (2017) on the “ubiquity of abduction.”

Author Information: Amiel Bernal, Virginia Tech, abernal@vt.edu

Bernal, Amiel. “The Epistemic Injustice Anthology: A Review of The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice.Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 11 (2017): 1-8.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3N8

Image credit: Routledge

The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice
Edited by Ian James Kidd, José Medina, and Gaile Pohlhaus Jr.
Routledge, 2017
438 pp.

I am undertaking a review of The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice with some trepidation. In reviewing an edited volume with over forty authors, I will inevitably commit some omissions and oversights, but the utility of this book justifies even a fool-hardy attempt. The length of this review suggests the troubles associated with adequately covering such an important anthology.

The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice, edited by Ian James Kidd, José Medina and Gaile Pohlhaus Jr., is a comprehensive anthology on the current theories of epistemic injustice with important implications for future research. The diverse methods and topics of this text make it an excellent introduction for graduate seminars, as well as a common resource for researchers in the field. It includes contributions from most authors active in the field, with enough diversity in contributors to represent the substantive and methodological differences among them. The text is prospective as it provides new methods and topics for future research. It is retrospective as it clearly canvasses and articulates major concepts and theories to date. Given the breadth and length of the book, I will provide only a cursory overview of most chapters, noting general themes.

The scope of the book addresses key issues of epistemic injustice, divided among its five parts. Part 1, “Core Concepts”, provides answers to questions such as what epistemic injustice is and what its constitutive concepts are. These include testimonial injustice, hermeneutical injustice, and various methodological lenses. Fundamental issues of responsibility, ideology and trust fill-out the section.

Part 2, “Liberatory Epistemologies and Axes of Oppression Answers”, addresses the ways in which epistemic injustice can be resisted and how epistemic injustice is sustained, sometimes despite good intentions.

Part 3, “Schools of Thought and Subfields within Epistemology”, canvasses an array of theories and methodologies which have informed or could be instrumental for understanding epistemic injustice. Diverse theoretical frameworks such as feminist epistemology, queer theory, and disability theory, are promising for future work in the field.

Part 4, “Sociopolitical, Ethical and Psychological Dimensions of Knowing”, relates epistemic injustice to agency, freedom, and social institutions.

Part 5, “Case Studies”, addresses sites of epistemic injustice, suggesting direction for future applied research and a keen sense of current applied research foci.<

On Part 1

In Chapter 1, “Varieties of Epistemic Injustice”, Gaile Pohlhaus Jr. outlines four lenses with which to interpret epistemic injustices. Considering relations of epistemic dominance and oppression, Pohlhaus invokes variations of social contract thinking, agential conditioning by social circumstance, degrees of change in epistemic systems, and epistemic labor and knowledge production.

Chapter 2, “Varieties of Testimonial Injustice”, by Jeremy Wanderer clarifies and develops the concept of testimonial injustice. While testimonial injustice was first conceived of as prejudicial interpersonal credibility deficits (Fricker 2007, 28), Wanderer extends the analysis to general types of testimonial injustice which includes transactional and structural forms. Wanderer also posits testimonial betrayal, which is the violation of epistemic trust established between persons.

Chapter 3, “Varieties of Hermeneutical Injustice”, by José Medina distills hermeneutical injustice to cases in which “the intelligibility of communicators is unfairly constrained or undermined when their meaning-making capacities encounter unfair obstacles” (41). Generalizing from hermeneutical injustice as conceptual lacunas which manifests from structural deficits in hermeneutical resources, Medina notes contexts in which culpable hermeneutical injustices arise.

Chapter 4, “Evolving Concepts of Epistemic Injustice”, allows Miranda Fricker to refine her conception of the scope of epistemic injustice. Fricker emphasizes epistemic phenomenology, directing attention at the role of intention in culpability. This emphasis on normative epistemic psychology supports a unique field of inquiry in epistemic injustice.

In Chapter 5, “Epistemic Injustice as Distributive Injustice”, Coady elaborates on his concept that distributive considerations are integral to understanding epistemic injustice. For example, credibility distributions are integral to understanding testimonial justice and injustice. Without an account of how much credibility a person deserves, calls for testimonial justice are moot.

Chapter 6, “Trust, Distrust and Epistemic Injustice”, by Katherine Hawley focuses on the foundational role of trust relations for epistemic justice. Hawley considers various conceptions of trust arguing that trust relations are often the basis of epistemic injustice and justice.

In Chapter 7, “Forms of Knowing and Epistemic Resources”, Alexis Shotwell maintains that fixation on propositional knowledge is itself an epistemic injustice and that thought experiments are unable to capture the epistemic dimensions of practice. Distinguishing between knowing how and knowing that, Shotwell attends to the ways in which know-how are intimately connected with our identities.

Chapter 9, “Ideology”, by Charles Mills connects Marxist notions of ideology and false consciousness to projects on epistemic injustice by extending the analysis beyond class to race, and in doing so provides an account of the nature of ideology. Mills notes the materialist basis of ideology founded in the interest of dominant classes and the epistemologies of ignorance that may explain many intelligibility deficits and hermeneutic lacunas.

On Part 2

In Part 2, the primary achievement is the use of theories of difference to inform the theory of epistemic injustice. In some cases, authors show how theories of difference have already influenced the development of epistemic injustice as a field. In Chapter 11, “Feminist Epistemology: The Subject of Knowledge”, Nancy Tuana traces the influence of standpoint theory for understanding the how epistemic privilege and marginalization is generated from political repression (e.g., Harding 2004). Expanding to critical race theory, Tuana invokes Mills (1997) to explain the resilience of ignorance, as it is a strategic epistemic asset of privilege.

In Chapter 10, “Intersectionality and Epistemic Injustice”, Patricia Hill Collins analyses the relevance of hybrid social identities to understanding epistemic injustice. She writes that intersectional identities “operate not as unitary mutually exclusive entities, but as reciprocally constructing phenomena that in turn shape complex social inequalities” (115). If epistemic justice scholarship is concerned with realizing social justice and reducing social inequality through change, then scholars would do well to recognize the interconnected forms of oppression enacted on the intersectionally diverse.

In Chapter 12, “Epistemic Injustice and the Philosophy of Race”, Luvell Anderson analyzes contemporary public debate on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. By distinguishing between an exclusive and inclusive reading of BLM, in which an inclusive reading entails that “black lives also matter” while an exclusive reading implies “only black lives matter,” Anderson shows that the exclusive interpretation of BLM perpetuates hermeneutical injustice. The exclusive reading obscures the intention to bring proportionate attention to the lives of black Americans experiencing disproportionate state-sanctioned police violence.

Chapter 15 “Allies Behaving Badly: Gaslighting as Epistemic Injustice”, exemplifies the axes of oppression theme of part 2. Rachel McKinnon argues how ostensive allies engage in epistemic injustice via gaslighting when allies suggest that trans* people are misinterpreting perceived micro-aggressions. This amounts to more than mere testimonial injustice, as it is a betrayal of a trust relationship.

In Chapter 16, “Knowing Disability, Differently”, Shelley Tremain demonstrates the myriad ways in which literature on epistemic injustice has been insensitive to disability. This is evident in the use of ableist metaphors (e.g. epistemic blindness). Tremain illustrates this through a meta-analysis of the use of the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird in writing on epistemic injustice.

On Part 3

Part 3 offers retrospective and prospective approaches for work on epistemic injustice.

In Chapter 17, “Foucault and Epistemic Injustice”, Amy Allen argues that Foucault’s focus on the constitutive and power-laden elements of epistemic practice can be productively leveraged to study epistemic injustice, contrary to popular opinion.

Chapter 18, “Epistemic Injustice and Phenomenology” by Lisa Guenther, argues both that phenomenological methods are useful for understanding epistemic injustice and are already implicitly built into Fricker’s account of epistemic injustice.

In Chapter 19, “On the Harms of Epistemic Injustice: Pragmatism and Transactional epistemology”, Shannon Sullivan addresses the debate initiated by Hookway (2010) and Fricker (2010) regarding whether epistemic injustice includes distributive considerations. Sullivan calls for a transactional account of knowledge, rather than a representational account, suggesting a normative basis for evaluating epistemic injustice based on human flourishing (210).

On Part 4

Part 4 connects epistemic injustice with novel normative theories, prevailing social science, and various political concepts. This part demonstrates integral connections between epistemic injustice, social science research, normative theory, political theory, and political philosophy.

In Chapter 22, “Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat and Epistemic Injustice”, Jennifer Saul clarifies the logical relationships between testimonial injustice, implicit bias and stereotype. While implicit bias may lead to testimonial injustice, they are not the same. Likewise, stereotype threat and implicit bias may lead to hermeneutical marginalization and thus hermeneutical injustice.

In Chapter 23, “What’s Wrong with Epistemic Injustice: Harm, Vice, Objectification and Misrecognition”, Matthew Congdon engages in the normative foundations debate, positing recognition theory as novel normative basis for epistemic injustice. He argues that it explains epistemic injustice. Failures to recognize epistemic agents as such can be analyzed in terms of failures to demonstrate epistemic respect, epistemic love, and epistemic esteem.

In Chapter 24, “Epistemic and Political Agency”, Lorenzo C. Simpson articulates the view that second-order social interpretations are “logically prior to the first-order social agency that depends upon it for its focus” (259). As such, Lorenzo provides an impetus to focus on structural and political issues of hermeneutical space while demarcating the bounds of culpability.

In Chapter 25, “Epistemic and Political Freedom”, Susan Babbit uses the case of Cuban intellectuals such as José Martí wrote on epistemic injustice well before similar debates occurred in North America. Political repression explains this epistemic injustice, as the colonial status of Cuba led to a circulation and credibility deficits, suffered by Cuban intellectuals. Thus, Babbitt shows how political freedom is a precondition for epistemic justice while drawing attention to underappreciated scholars of epistemic injustice.

On Part 5

Part 5 applies and extends theories of epistemic injustice to the law, digital environments, science, education, health care, religion, philosophy itself, and indigenous peoples in relation to anthropology and cultural heritage. Given the breadth of coverage, I will focus on applications which have not received attention elsewhere. As such, special attention will be given to the previously unaddressed fields as represented by Chapters 28, 29, 34 and 35.

In Chapter 28 “Epistemic injustice and the Law”, Michael Sullivan argues that truth is not the sole goal of trial procedures, noting 5th amendment pleas, and non-testifying privileges retained by spouses of defendants. To promote truth and reduce epistemic injustice during trials, he offers four suggestions. First, procedures to mitigate bias and promote truth; second, judges and juries representative of local demographics; third, judges and juries should be made aware of their implicit biases and confirmation bias. Fourth, juries and judges should be made aware of their hermeneutical system and epistemic norms.

Chapter 29 “Epistemic Injustice: The Case of Digital environments” by Gloria Origgi and Serena Ciranni, canvas the unique and epistemically problematic implications of mass digitization. The authors note that predictive algorithms and online records are often considered more reliable than persons. This view poses problems for epistemic agency and self-trust. Epistemic objectification occurs as statistical doubles are generated based on our digital behaviors which are then used to predict and model our behavior. This leads to a depreciation of intentionality, as tech giants increasingly direct our attention and behavior while alienating persons from their data. As the editors suggest at the outset, this era of informational and communicative abundance makes matters of epistemic injustice especially pressing (Kidd, Medina and Pohlhaus 1). Origgi and Ciranni’s turn to digital environments is a welcome shift as big data increasingly influences our lives and epistemic activities.

In Chapter 34 “Indigenous peoples, Anthropology and the Legacy of Epistemic Injustice”, Rebecca Tsosie analyzes the influence that anthropology has had on the hermeneutics and representation of native peoples in North America. Showing that indigenous epistemic marginalization has deep legal and intellectual roots, Tsosie demonstrates the ways in which indigenous knowledge systems are viewed as epistemically deficient as they are presented as lacking the secular rationalistic values. Testimonial injustice arises as indigenous peoples are not given due credibility because of marginalization and biased epistemic norms. This marginalization and testimonial injustice leads to hermeneutical injustice as native peoples are disenfranchised from the meaning-making process about their own cultures in courts and anthropology departments.

In Chapter 35, “Epistemic Injustice and Cultural Heritage”, Andreas Pantazatos employs Hookway’s (2010) account of participant perspective epistemic injustices to argue that cultural heritage institutions have a unique duty to include members of that heritage in the process of making and conveying cultural knowledge. The cathedral of Durham City, England exemplifies the tendency to exclude relevant contemporary stakeholders, which results in a participant injustice. Epistemic injustice is interpreted as a distributional problem as some stakeholders’ perspectives are not transmitted to others.

Epistemic Injustice and Philosophical Practice

In the final analysis, a few points are especially evident. First, and appropriately for the field of epistemic injustice, this book displays great diversity in methods, styles, and sources. The analytic/continental distinction, which continues to haunt much of contemporary Anglophone philosophy, plays little role in demarcating disciplinary norms. For example, Lorraine Code freely admits that her narrative style may be irksome to some and that epistemology itself lacked the resources to address issues of epistemic responsibility until recently (Chapter 8, 92). Scholars draw from continental figures such as Marx (Mills, Chapter 9), Merleau-Ponty (Guenther, Chapter 18), Foucault (Hall, Chapter 14; Allen, Chapter 17), and Hegel (Congdon, Chapter 23). This demonstrates a break from much of contemporary philosophy as scholars eschew the “rhetoric of beginnings” in which a small group or individual is credited with providing the foundations of a field of inquiry (Pohlhaus 14; Dotson 2012). Rather than cite a specific body of literature due to recent philosophical mores, contributors to this volume draw from an array of source they deem useful.

The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice is a major step for the field of epistemic injustice. This contribution creates a space for and central pillar of epistemic injustice research. This is not merely a result of the scope and content of epistemic injustice, canvassed above. The very methods of the field challenge long-standing disciplinary norms about intellectual antecedents, appropriate methods, and blurring of classic distinctions between political philosophy, ‘proper’ epistemology, and ethics. One major methodological transition is evident in the self-reflexive assessment of philosophy, its limits, and its methods. This meta-philosophical inclination challenges inherited norms about proper philosophical practice.

Patricia Hill Collins challenges the distinction between social justice scholarship and activism, noting a characteristic aversion to activism in philosophy departments. She writes, “[y]et once inside the academy these actors discovered that political action and taking principled positions became objectionable because they seemingly opposed norms of scholarly objectivity” (Chapter 10, 118). Here Collins takes aim at practical norms within academia urging a more intimate connection between theory and praxis. Likewise, Linda Alcoff challenges Eurocentrism in the academy. She argues that the practiced belief that theory is separable from a historical context constitutes a “transcendental delusion” (Chapter 37, 297). Alcoff insists that the philosophical practice of giving nearly exclusive credit and scholarly attention to Western canons itself presupposes that geographical and cultural origin bestow special epistemic authority. Shotwell criticizes central features of philosophy, namely propositional knowledge and thought experiments (Chapter 7, 79). As such, the aversion to the “rhetoric of beginnings” mentioned above allows scholars from across disciplines to take up research in epistemic injustice—a process which has already begun in many applied social science journals. Despite these challenges to philosophical institutional norms, a final marked contrast of this book is its eschewing of combative dialectics.

Edited philosophy volumes are often arranged for the purposes of putting interlocutors in direct conflict. By contrast, the scholars in this volume freely choose among scholars to analyze the phenomena of epistemic injustice, without asserting perceived problems in the work of others. The reader gets the sense that rather than positing competing theories of epistemic injustice, the field is undertaken as a cooperative endeavor in which scholars add and refine each other’s conceptual and practical contributions towards a common end. There are no contributions which attempt to reduce epistemic injustice to some single theory or basic phenomena. Instead, authors posit additional theories and contributions and show how they are fecund for analyzing epistemic injustice. While substantive and methodological disagreements persist, the cogito conquero is notably absent (Dussel 2010).

A final note will be offered regarding one opportunity for future work on epistemic injustice. Fricker (2007) focused on collective hermeneutical space and the social imagination that informs our affective and epistemic systems. Recently, scholars have moved away from the view that there is a one collective hermeneutical space (Mason 2011; Medina 2013). Scholars increasingly acknowledge heterogenous worldviews which leads to contexts for epistemic justice and injustice. For example, in Chapter 36 “Epistemic Injustice and Religious Experience” Ian Kidd argues that deep epistemic injustice arises as incompatible worldviews may forestall “the very possibility of credibility or intelligibility” (393). While these issues are ripe for analysis, the background conditions of epistemic practice and experience are undertheorized. A latent tension throughout the anthology is competing conceptions of these collective epistemic entities and activities. This occurs both at the level of world-views and interactions within and between world-views.

This transition has led to conceptual landscape strewn with locutions regarding worldviews. Throughout the book references to life-world (Mills 103), “the imaginary” (Code, Chapter 8, 94), and discourses (Haslanger 279) are used to refer to a common domain adding to the parlance of social imagination (Fricker 2007). Relatedly, epistemologies of ignorance, ideologies, false consciousness, and adaptive preferences express ways in which epistemic systems can be immoral or maladaptive. Localized hermeneutical practices pick-out epistemic norms within discursive sets, controlling images delimit the norms of social imagination (Medina, Chapter 3, 44; Pohlhaus, Chapter 1, 21). Medina identifies the possibility of attuning oneself to different hermeneutical systems with his concept of “kaleidoscopic sensibility” (Medina 2013, 16).

Nancy Tuana cites Lugone’s “world-traveling” to express the similar idea that agents can adjust their epistemic lenses to appreciate different epistemic communities (Chapter 11, 128-31). While this text moves the dialectic forward in many ways, it also makes under-theorized areas more evident. Many readers probably have some sense of the theoretical relations between these concepts, yet little formal work has been done to connect this panoply of concepts. A reductive account risks epistemic injustice and may be logically impossible, but some analytical accounts to understand the coherence and connections between these concepts is in order. As the contemporary study of epistemic injustice matures, conceptual house-cleaning will facilitate a clear body of hermeneutical resources for further study of epistemic injustice. As such, The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice provides a great deal of content and opportunities in a single volume.

References

Anderson, Derek Egan. “Conceptual Competence Injustice.” Social Epistemology 31, no. 2 (2017): 210-223.

Carel, Havi, and Ian James Kidd. “Epistemic Injustice in Healthcare: A Philosophical Analysis.” Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 17, no. 4 (2014): 529-540.

Coady, David. “Two Concepts of Epistemic Injustice.” Episteme 7, no. 2 (2010): 101-113.

Dussel, Enrique D., Javier Krauel, and Virginia C. Tuma. “Europe, Modernity, and Eurocentrism.” Nepantla: Views from South 1, no. 3 (2000): 465-478.

Dotson, Kristie. “A Cautionary Tale: On Limiting Epistemic Oppression.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 33, no. 1 (2012): 24-47.

Fricker, Miranda. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Fricker, Miranda. “Replies to Alcoff, Goldberg, and Hookway on Epistemic Injustice.” Episteme 7, no. 2 (2010): 164-178.

Grasswick, Heidi E., ed. Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science: Power in Knowledge. Springer Science & Business Media, 2011.

Hookway, Christopher. “Some Varieties of Epistemic Injustice: Reflections on Fricker.” Episteme 7, no. 2 (2010): 151-163.

Horsthemke, Kai. “Of Ants and Men: Epistemic Injustice, Commitment to Truth, and the Possibility of Outsider Critique in Education.” Ethics and Education 9, no. 1 (2014): 127-140.

Harding, Sandra G., ed. The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies. Psychology Press, 2004.

Kidd, Ian James, and Havi Carel. “Epistemic Injustice and Illness.” Journal of Applied Philosophy 34, no. 2 (2017): 172-190.

Kotzee, Ben. “Educational Justice, Epistemic Justice, and Leveling Down.” Educational Theory 63, no. 4 (2013): 331-350.

Mason, Rebecca. “Two Kinds of Unknowing.” Hypatia 26, no. 2 (2011): 294-307.

Medina, José. The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and the Social Imagination. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Mills, The Racial Contract, Cornell University Press, 1997

Pohlhaus, Gaile. “Relational Knowing and Epistemic Injustice: Toward a Theory of Willful Hermeneutical Ignorance.” Hypatia 27, no. 4 (2012): 715-735.

Wardrope, Alistair. “Medicalization and Epistemic Injustice.” Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 18, no. 3 (2015): 341-352.

Author Information: Linda T. Zagzebski, University of Oklahoma, lzagzebski@ou.edu

Zagzebski, Linda T. “Trust in Others and Self-Trust: Regarding Epistemic Authority.Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 10 (2017):56-59.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3MA

Please refer to:

Image credit: Oxford Univerity Press

Many thanks to Jensen Alex, Valerie Joly Chock, Kyle Mallard, and Jonathan Matheson (2017) for your extensive review of Epistemic Authority (2015). I have never seen a work by four philosophers working together, and I appreciate the collaboration it must have taken for you to produce it. I learned from it and hope that I can be a help to you and the readers of SERRC.

What is Inside and What is Outside

I would like to begin by summarizing the view of the mind I am using, which I hope will clarify the central place of conscientious self-reflection in my book, and the way that connects with reasons. I am using a modern view of the mind in which the mind has a boundary.[1] There is a difference between what is inside and what is outside. The mind has faculties that naturally aim at making our mental states fit the outside world in characteristic ways. Perceptual faculties, epistemic faculties, and emotional faculties all do that. They may do so successfully or they may not. So perceptions can be veridical or non-veridical; beliefs can be true or false; emotions can fit or not fit their intentional objects. This view of the mind leads to a generalization of the problem of epistemic circularity: we have no way of telling that any conscious state fits an external object without referring to other conscious states whose fittingness we can also question—hence, the need for self-trust. But we do have a way to detect that something is wrong with our connection to the outside world; that we have a mistaken perceptual state, a false belief, an inappropriate or exaggerated emotion, a skewed value, etc, by the experience of dissonance among our states.

For instance, a belief state might clash with a memory or a perceptual state or a belief acquired by testimony, or the cognitive component of an emotional state. Some dissonance is resolved immediately and without reflection, as when I give up my seeming memory of turning off the sprinkler system when I hear the sprinklers come on, but often dissonance cannot be resolved without awareness of the conflicting states and reflection upon them. Since the mind cannot get beyond its own boundary, all we can do is (a) trust that our faculties are generally reliable in the way they connect us to the outside world, and (b) attempt to use them the best way we can to reach their objects. That is what I call “conscientiousness.” I define epistemic conscientiousness as using our faculties in the best way we can to get the truth (48). Ultimately, our only test that any conscious state fits its object is that it survives conscientious reflection upon our total set of conscious states, now and in the future.

The authors raise the objection that my account is not sufficiently truth- centered because there is more than one way to resolve dissonance. That is, of course, true. The issue for a particular person is finding the most conscientious way to resolve the conflict, a question that sometimes has a plain answer and sometimes does not. The authors give the example of a father who cannot bring himself to believe that his son was killed in war even though he has been given a substantial body of evidence of his son’s death. It is possible for the man to restore harmony in his psyche by abandoning any states that conflict with his belief that his son is alive. Why do we think it is not rational for him to do that? Because we are told that his own faculties are giving him overwhelming evidence that his son is dead, and presumably his faculties will continue to do so forever. His son will never return. If he is to continue believing his son is alive, he has to continuously deny what he is told by sources he has always trusted, which means he has to continuously fabricate reasons why the sources are no longer trustworthy and are compounding their mistakes, and why new sources are also mistaken. If some of his reasons are sensory, he may even have to deny the evidence of his senses. That means that he is not epistemically conscientious as I have defined it because he is not trying to make his belief about his son true. Instead, he is trying to maintain the belief come what may. But we are told that it is psychologically impossible for him to recognize that his son has died. If that is true, then it is psychologically impossible for him to be epistemically conscientious, and hence rational. I would not deny that such a thing can happen, but in that case there is nothing more to be said.

The Nature of Reasons

This leads to my view on the nature of reasons. Why do we say that the father has many reasons to believe his son is dead, in fact, so many that if he is rational, he will give up the belief that his son still lives? We say that because we know what conscientious people do when given detailed and repeated testimony by sources whose trustworthiness has survived all of their past conscientious reflection and with no contrary evidence. To say he has reasons to believe his son is dead is just to say that a conscientiously self-reflective person would treat what he hears, reads, sees as indicators of the truth of his son’s death. So I say that a reason just is what a conscientiously self-reflective person sees as indicating the truth of some belief.

Self-trust is more basic than reasons because we do not have any reason to think that what we call reasons do in fact indicate the truth without self-trust. (Chap 2, sec.5). Self-trust is a condition for what we call a reason to be in fact an indicator of truth. That means that contrary to what the authors maintain, a conscientious judgment can never go against the balance of one’s reasons since one’s reasons for p just are what one conscientiously judges indicate the truth of p. There can, however, be cases in which it is not clear which way the balance of reasons go, and I discuss some of those cases in Chapter 10 on disagreement. Particularly difficult to judge are the cases in which some of the reasons are emotions.

The fact that emotions can be reasons brings up the distinction between 1st person and 3rd person reasons, which I introduce in Chapter 3, and discuss again in chapters 5, 6, and 10. (The authors do not mention this distinction). What I call 1st person or deliberative reasons are states of mind that indicate to me that some belief is true. 3rd person, or theoretical reasons, are not states of mind, but are propositions that are logically or probabilistically connected to the truth of some proposition. (What we call evidence is typically in this category). 3rd person reasons can be laid out on the table for anybody to consider. I say that 1st person and 3rd person reasons do not aggregate. They cannot be put together to give a verdict on the balance of reasons in a particular case independent of the way they are treated by the person who is conscientiously reflecting. The distinction between the two kinds of reasons is important for more than one purpose in the book. I use the distinction to show that 1st person reasons broaden the range of reasons considerably, including states of emotion, belief, perception, intuition, and memory.

A conscientiously self-reflective person can treat any of these states as indicators of the truth of some proposition. We think that we access 3rd person reasons because of our trust in ourselves when we are conscientious. And we do access 3rd person reasons provided that we are in fact trustworthy. This distinction is important in cases of reasonable disagreement because two parties to a disagreement share some of their 3rd person reasons, but they will never share their 1st person reasons. The fact that each party has certain 1st person reasons is a 3rd person reason, but that fact will never have the same function in deliberation as 1st person reasons, and we would not want it to do so.

The authors raise some questions about the way we treat our reasons when they are pre-empted by the belief or testimony of an authority. What happens to the reasons that are pre-empted? Using pre-emption in Raz’s sense, I say that they do not disappear and they are not ignored. They continue to be reasons for many beliefs.  Pre-emption applies to the limited scope of the authority’s authority. When I judge that A is more likely to get the truth whether p than I am, then A’s testimony whether p replaces my independent reasons for and against p. But my reasons for and against p are still beliefs, and they operate as reasons for many beliefs outside the scope of cases in which I judge that A is an authority. Pre-emption also does not assume that I control whether or not I pre-empt. It is rational to pre-empt when I reasonably judge that A satisfies the justification thesis. If I am unable to pre-empt, then I am unable to be rational. In general, I think that we have quite a bit of control over the cases in which we pre-empt, but the theory does not require it. As I said about the case of the father whose son died in a war, I do not assume that we can always be rational.[2]

On Our Biases

The authors also bring up the interesting problem of biases in ourselves or in our communities. A prejudiced person often does not notice her prejudices even when she is reflecting as carefully as she can, and her trust in her community can make the situation worse since the community can easily support her prejudices and might even be the source of them. This is an important insight, and I think it can bolster several points I make in the book. For one thing, cases of bias or prejudice make it all the more important that we have trust in others whose experience widens and deepens our own and helps us to identify unrecognized false beliefs and distorted feelings, and it makes particularly vivid the connection between emotion and belief and the way critical reflection on our emotions can change beliefs for the better.

My argument in Chapter 3 that epistemic self-trust commits us to epistemic trust in others, and the parallel argument in Chapter 4 that emotional self-trust commits us to emotional trust in others would be improved by attention to these cases. The problem of prejudice in communities can also support my argument in Chapter 10, section 4 that what I call communal epistemic egoism is false. I argue that communities are rationally required to think of other communities the same way individuals are rationally required to think of other individuals. Just as self-trust commits me to trust in others, communal self-trust commits a community to trust in other communities. Since biases are most commonly revealed by responses outside the community, it is a serious problem if communities succumb to communal egoism.

In the last section of Chapter 10 I propose some principles of rationality that are intended to show some consequences of the falsehood of communal egoism. One is the Rational Recognition Principle: If a community’s belief is rational, its rationality is recognizable, in principle, by rational persons in other communities. Once we admit that rationality is a quality we have as human beings, not as members of a particular community, we are forced to recognize that the way we are seen from the outside is prima facie trustworthy, and although we may conscientiously reject it, we need reasons to do so. It is our own conscientiousness that requires us to reflect on ourselves with external eyes. A very wide range of trust in others is entailed by self-trust. That is one of the main theses of the book.

References

Alex, Jensen, Valerie Joly Chock, Kyle Mallard, and Jonathan Matheson. “A Review of Linda Zagzebski’s Epistemic Authority.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 9 (2017): 29-34.

Zagzebski, Linda T. Epistemic Authority: A Theory of Trust, Authority, and Autonomy in Belief. Oxford University Press, 2015.

[1] It is not mandatory to think of the mind this way, although it is the most common view in the modern period. I am working on the difference between this approach and the more open view of the mind that dominated before the modern era in my project, The Two Greatest Ideas, Soochow Lectures, 2018.

[2] Christoph Jaeger offers extended objections to my view of pre-emption and I reply in Episteme, April 2016. That issue also includes an interesting paper by Elizabeth Fricker on my book and my reply. See European Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Dec. 2014, which contains twelve papers on Epistemic Authority and my replies, including several that give special attention to pre-emption.

Author Information: Brian Rappert, University of Exeter, B.Rappert@exeter.ac.uk

Rappert, Brian. “Brian Martin’s The Deceptive Activist: A Review.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 10 (2017): 52-55.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3Ml

Image credit: Irene Publishing

The Deceptive Activist
Brian Martin
Irene Publishing (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)
168 pp.
http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/17da/index.html

Saying things we don’t really mean. Omitting relevant considerations. Leaking. Making the best impression. Spinning. Just adding that little tail to the story that gets the laugh. Feigning. In The Deceptive Activist, Brian Martin extends an invitation to open to the myriad of ways in which dishonesty figures within day-to-day interactions and political life. The reasons for deception are presented as manifold as its manifestations. Higher purposes. Convenience. Loyalties. Face saving. Ideologies that mark what Noam Chomsky called ‘the bounds of thinkable thought’.

Being completely frank and with no reason to do otherwise, my judgement of The Deceptive Activist is that … well … more on this later.

The kind of invitation extended by this book is one that is as sobering as it is destabilising. Its core claims are two-fold: (1) deception is commonplace and (2) this applies to you too (admit it…). As such, ‘rather than sweeping the tensions under the carpet’, Martin argues, ‘it may be better to start talking about deception and about when it can serve worthwhile purposes’.[1]

Through use of case studies and other examples, The Deceptive Activist reasons through the pros and cons of not presenting it like it is, with particular reference to political activism. As elsewhere in his work, Martin’s goal is not trying to definitely specify appropriate conduct. Instead, he takes it as one of skilling up readers to think through possible courses of action. Towards this end, he recounts different frameworks for helping to determine when deception might be warranted. The framework accorded with most traction is one Martin previously developed for assessing nonviolent action. Dissimulation of various kinds might be appropriate depending on whether it is standard, limited in harm, voluntary, fair, what it prefigures (do means and ends align?), whether it opens up participation, and whether it is skilfully done.

For my part, I can recall few books that explicitly encouraged readers to think about when dishonesty may be the best policy. In this the argument is bold. It is not that talk of dissimulation is rare though, even with scholarly traditions. It has a long history in the canons of Western thought. Socrates’ enthusiasm for a ‘noble lie’ in The Republic is one well-known instance. Yet, as with so many other examples in political thought, this message of dishonesty was one aimed at elites of the day, not those seeking to challenge them.[2] To note this is to signal the way the pervasiveness of deception also comes accompanied by a sense of its boundaries. It has an endpoint or an end-person to which it is pursued. It is not hard to see why. Deception unbound provides no place for anyone to stand. For this reason, talk of being deceptive often entails appeals to truth.

As The Deceptive Activist elaborates, appeals to truth can entail deception too. Take the domain of scholarship. As Martin contends with reference to biomedical research, ‘even domains where truth-telling is vital can be plagued by passions, biases and the presence of vested interests. Whenever an area develops a reputation for honesty, it is predictable that interlopers will try to benefit from a false impression that they too are honest.’[3]

Taken together though, the pervasiveness of deception, its subtleness, and the potential for it to be present where it should be least prompt a question back to The Deceptive Activist: namely, is Martin trying to, well, beguile readers himself? To put it more bluntly, perhaps too bluntly, does The Deceptive Activist entail deception?

Consider some possible grounds. There are many claims to truth presented, often substantiated through citations to scholarship. Given the argument in The Deceptive Activist, though, these are prime candidates for where we might look for finessing. Charged controversies such as the torture at Abu Ghraib, the intentions of the public relations of firms, and the rationales for the machinations of US statecraft are recounted, and recounted in a language that makes definitive claims to have grasped how authorities attempted to dupe. Have the specific glossings of the topics given, it might be asked, perhaps scarified complexity for the sake of advancing the overall argument of The Deceptive Activist? Have any relevant considerations that might have given a different spin to these matters been excluded? Deliberately or otherwise? Or have considerations been left out that would impact on how definitely scholarship can resolve what counts as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? The text of The Deceptive Activist itself suggests some grounds for caution about whether it is providing facts that fit the argument. While at times unpicking factual claims for what is going on behind them, at other times factual claims are taken as a solid bedrock for knowing. While at times questioning how motives are attributed to large organisations, at other times motivations are attributed.

Given the argument in The Deceptive Activist, rather than concentrating on whether deception is taking place in some more or less subtle ways, it would seem more important to ask whether any such dissimulation would be appropriate. How though to evaluate the potential for deception? Four options are:

Martin is not deceiving in the crafting of The Deceptive Activist, and…

… this is problematic because it stands as a refutation to the thesis of the necessity and even desirability of deception.
… this is not problematic because it illustrates the high standards possible for human conduct (even if calling into question a central premise of the book).

Martin is deceiving in the crafting of The Deceptive Activist, and…

… this is not problematic so long as he did so in-line with a framework such as the one for assessing nonviolent action.
… this is problematic because (a) truth-telling is vital in scholarship or (b) he is missing a trick in really getting to grips with the potential for deception.

Writing out of these options prompts a pause. It seems that having a serious debate about the appropriateness of the options would painfully grate against many of the mores projected as central to scholarly and political life – like an open hand scraping along a brick wall. Now, perhaps more so than in recent times, assertions of (self-)deception figure prominently in the arsenals of rhetorical put downs. Fake this, alternative that. Which side are you on? While The Deceptive Activist does not engage with the latest international parlance for fakery, and probably with good reason, many will likely interpret its arguments against this political context. It is time of clashing binaries of right of wrong, not fine lines.

Which institutions then might support a discussion about the place of deception, and too the place of deception in the analysis of deception? This is a weighty matter that cannot be addressed within the limited scope of a review essay. Turning the issues on their head though, we can ask instead whether a book review would be a good place to locate such a serious debate. Reviews such as this one don’t operate in a pristine space free from conventions. Instead, reviews help to define communities (a sense of ‘we’) and communities come to learn how to interpret reviews. Within the expectations of a review, a statement that notionally reads as stinging criticism or high praise might be taken as otherwise by seasoned community members.[4] Audiences may, in fact, bring a good deal of scepticism to what they read in book reviews because they judge them as a form of endorsement genre, or if not this then a place of petty one-upmanship, or a space where reviewers forward their pet ideas instead of dealing with the serious matters they are meant to be minding.[5] Perhaps it may be time too to start talking about dissimulation in reviews genres and when it can serve worthwhile purposes.

Where and how can we have a frank discussion about a book on deception, let alone about deception itself?[6]

References

Hanegraaff, Wouter J. Esotericism and the Academy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Lamberton, Robert. “The απόρρητος θεωρία and the Roles of Secrecy in the History of Platonism.” In Secrecy and Concealment, edited by Hans G. Kippenberg and Guy G. Stroumsa, 139-152. New York: E.J Brill, 1995.

[1] Page 4.

[2] Actually the story was more complicated. Since in his dialogues Socrates admonished the capacity of the written word to discover truth, scholars since have questioned why Plato reduced the dialogues by codifying them into writing. One theory is that Plato may have only written down certain teachings, teachings of lesser value. Whether a ‘Unwritten Doctrine’ of teaching existed and who it was shared with have been topics for conversation since the time, see Lamberton (1995) and Hanegraaff (2012).

[3] Page 58.

[4] So if you aren’t getting the joke, you aren’t getting the joke.

[5] Would it help to decode my writing or just confuse the situation further if I noted Brian Martin has been a stalwart colleague for over twenty years?

[6] My thanks to Claes-Fredrik Helgesson for the wording of this ending and comments on this review. And Brian Martin too.