Archives For epistemic injustice

Author Information: Paul-Mikhail Catapang Podosky and William Tuckwell, University of Melbourne,;

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.

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

Author Information: Amiel Bernal, Virginia Tech,

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:

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.


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: Manuel Padilla Cruz, Universidad de Sevilla,

Padilla Cruz, Manuel. “On the Usefulness of the Notion of ‘Conceptual Competence Injustice’ to Linguistic Pragmatics.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 4 (2017): 12-19.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

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Image credit: ebrkut, via flickr

Quite recently, Anderson (2017) has distinguished a new form of epistemic injustice: conceptual competence injustice. This is characterised as the injustice that people are inflicted when they are not recognised as knowers or experts in some domain because of failure to grasp one or various concepts in what is said. Conceptual competence injustice is defined as “[…] a wrong done to a person specifically in their capacity as a knower of those claims that would traditionally be regarded as conceptual and linguistic truths” (Anderson 2017, 210).

Conceptual competence injustice clearly differs from testimonial injustice, or the unfairness sustained when the testimony dispensed is thought to be unreliable or false (Fricker 2003, 2007). Here, what is at stake is credibility. Conceptual competence injustice also diverges from hermeneutical injustice, or “[…] the injustice of having some significant area of one’s social experience obscured from collective understanding” (Fricker 2006, 99). The issue here is intelligibility, as a person is not understood as deserved or expected (Fricker 2006, 105-107; 2007, 151). Hermeneutical injustices have no perpetrator (Fricker 2006, 102) and stem from a “[…] hermeneutical lacuna […] preventing [individuals] from rendering [their] experience communicatively intelligible” (Fricker 2006, 101). They arise when individuals lack the conceptual tools facilitating expression of experience or reference to specific actions or events, so they cannot “[…] make communicatively intelligible something which is particularly in [their] interest to be able to render intelligible” (Fricker 2006, 103).

Conceptual competence injustice also significantly contrasts with contributory injustice (Dotson 2012), which originates when “[…] a person has the conceptual tools to comprehend [their] experience […] and the linguistic tools to articulate it, but [their] attempts at communicating [their] ideas are thwarted by the fact that [the] audience willfully misunderstand [them]” (Dotson 2012, 32). When someone sustains a contributory injustice, what they say fails “[…] to gain appropriate uptake” (Dotson 2012, 32) inasmuch as their interlocutors intentionally, purposefully and decidedly do not “[…] capture the ideas or experiences being expressed” (Dotson 2012, 32). Consequently, contributory injustices have perpetrators: those who refrain from correctly understanding what the target of the injustice says.

In addition to helping better understand the complexity and diversity of epistemic injustice, the notion of conceptual competence injustice may be most helpful to pragmatics, a field in linguistics which may certainly benefit from it. This notion may contribute to conceptualising an undesired or unexpected perlocutionary effect (Austin 1962) of communicative behaviour arising as a consequence of the accidental relevance of a conclusion drawn in the search for the optimal relevance of verbal stimuli processed, among which lies communicative behaviour (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995; Wilson 1999; Wilson and Sperber 2004). In what follows I purport to show the usefulness of this novel kind of epistemic injustice and thus argue in favour of incorporating a notion originated in the field of social epistemology into a linguistic discipline. In so doing, I will rely on some claims and postulates of relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995), a cognitive pragmatic framework delving into communication and, more precisely, comprehension, which may conveniently account for the origin of some conclusions derivable from human behaviour.

Communicative Competence

Speaking a language requires abstract knowledge of the language in question, which feeds a series of interrelated, specialised abilities indispensable for performance. Those abilities, or sub-competences, make up communicative competence and have been labelled differently in extant models (Hymes 1972; Canale 1983; Bachman 1990; Celce-Murcia et al. 1995). Among such sub-competences are:

Linguistic competence, or knowing the grammar rules and lexical repertoire of a language, which are the very rudiments of a language.

Sociocultural competence, which involves awareness of social and institutional structures; the social attributes of participants in conversations (age, gender, power, distance, etc.), and the register, style or level of politeness expected, required or allowed in certain situations. These greatly determine what people say and how they say it.

Actional competence, or mastery of a range of (conventionalised) semantico-syntactic structures to mean, but more importantly, to do specific things with words.

Linguistic competence, and more specifically, possession of and ability to use precise and adequate lexical items, are primordial in communication. Words like nouns (‘house’, ‘cat’), adjectives (‘big’, ‘empty’), verbs (‘run’, ‘bite’) and adverbs (‘fast’, ‘slowly’) encode concepts, or mental objects that become part of the mental representations entertained during comprehension (house, cat, big, red, run, bite, fast, slowly).[1] Those words are the means to name and allude to people, animals, objects, actions, events, etc. (Wilson and Sperber 1993), even if the concepts they encode may be inferentially adjusted through operations like broadening or narrowing (Wilson and Carston 2007; Carston 2012). Other words like ‘but’, ‘so’ or ‘because’, in contrast, encode procedures, or mental instructions steering the inferences the mind performs when processing linguistic input (Blakemore 1987; Wilson and Sperber 1993). While words in the former category are conceptual, those in the latter are procedural and “[…] put the user of the language into a state” in which they perform a domain-specific inference at a sub-personal level (Wilson 2016, 11). To put it differently, procedural expressions “[…] point the hearer in a [particular] direction” (Wharton 2009, 61).

Lexical (In)competence

Employing appropriate words turns out crucial for hearers to infer speakers’ actual informative intention—i.e. the set of assumptions that speakers intend to make manifest,[2] or the intended message (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995; Wilson and Sperber 2004). Speakers are usually presupposed to be benevolent—i.e. they will seek to provide true and relevant information–[3] and competent—i.e. they are believed to command their native language and its rules of usage (Sperber 1994). True communicative competence involves guiding hearers to intended meaning through appropriate morphological, lexical, syntactic or pragmatic choices. This requires, among others, checking that words and communicative strategies are adequate and do not demand excessive cognitive effort, and that what is said will result in a satisfactory amount of cognitive effects (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995).

Unfortunately, speakers are not always fully competent in a language—think of non-native speakers or learners of a second language– or do not behave competently because of diverse permanent pathologies—e.g. autism, Asperger syndrome, etc.– or temporary mental or physiological states like tiredness, absentmindedness, disease, anger, euphoria, nervousness, etc. (Mustajoki 2012; Padilla Cruz 2017). Among other mistakes, these factors may cause speakers to misuse vocabulary. On some occasions, lexical mistakes do not have very serious consequences, but result in rather funny anecdotes. This was the case of a French person who sought to enquire in a broken Spanish where he could catch a taxi. A mistake when pronouncing a consonant sound in the verb ‘coger’ (‘catch/take’) turned it into ‘comer’ (‘eat’), so they asked “¿Dónde puedo comer un taxi?” (“Where can I eat a taxi?”).

Some speakers may also be less competent than others in specific linguistic areas like vocabulary, syntax or pragmatics. As regards vocabulary, individuals may have conceptual deficits or conceptualisation problems originating in mismatches between concepts and words (Dua 1990; Sperber and Wilson 1997; Bazzanella and Damiano 1999). These give rise to misstatements, which may lead hearers to utterly misunderstand speakers if no meaning negotiation ensues (Banks et al. 1991). Among misunderstandings stemming from lack or misuse of vocabulary are failure to correctly understand the meaning of the words employed—i.e. the predicative function– or failure to grasp what is talked about—i.e. the referential function (Weigand 1999).

When conceptual expressions are inadequately used or the speaker lacks them, a pragmatic failure may arise, as the hearer does not understand what the speaker actually means or the hearer has difficulties to do so (Thomas 1983). Indeed, failures in expressive acts prevent hearers from making the expected or appropriate inferences (Bosco et al. 2006).[4] For instance, if someone asked you to grab them a spoon, when what they actually meant was a stool, you would reach for the spoon and not the stool and conclude that they want to eat or cook, but not to sit down or rest for a while.

When speakers do not succeed at finding adequate vocabulary, they may resort to paraphrases, synonyms, antonyms, pointing, etc. in order to somehow explain what they mean. They may also employ vague terms or placeholders, and trust hearers to inferentially adjust them in order to arrive at what they mean. Doing so is part and parcel of speakers’ strategic competence, another component of communicative competence thanks to which communicative problems are avoided or overcome, and mutual understanding is restored (Canale 1983; Celce-Murcia et al. 1995). Nevertheless, lack or misuse of vocabulary, in addition to hindering smooth communication and hampering on correct understanding, may have negative perlocutionary effects: they may bias perceptions of speakers as knowers and users of a language. In other words, infelicitous linguistic performance may impact the impressions that hearers forge about speakers.

Consequences of Lexical Problems

As linguistic input is perceived, it is processed by the mind, which subconsciously performs a wide variety of simultaneous inferences at an incredibly fast pace. Some of those inferences are necessary to assign reference to proper names, pronouns or indexicals—i.e. words like ‘here’, ‘there’ or ‘now’—others enable restriction of the denotation of some of the concepts encoded in the words in utterances; others facilitate recovery of elided material or disambiguation of some word strings; others result in the construction of descriptions of the speaker’s attitude to the proposition expressed or the speech act performed, and others are necessary to arrive at implicit contents or implicatures (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995). These inferences depend on access to an immense variety of contextual information, which is perceptible in the physical environment or mentally stored. Virtually, there is no limit to the amount and sort of information that the mind accesses, but the mind is normally guided, as a result of evolution, by expectations of optimal relevance: it follows the path of least possible effort and maximum cognitive reward (Wilson 1999; Wilson and Sperber 2004).

Verbal actions like requesting, offering, inviting, thanking, etc., make manifest a variety of assumptions. Consider a request for a glass of water such as “May I have some water?” It may make manifest assumptions referring to the requester’s thirst and willingness to get some water, as well as to the existence of a water tap and glasses in the place where she and the hearer happen to be, and the hearer’s ability to give her some water. The speaker may have intended to make manifest to the hearer those assumptions, so they are strongly communicated (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995). The hearer will use them as implicated premises in order to reach the implicated conclusion that the requester wants some water and he can give it to her. As a result, the hearer may decide either to comply with the request, which is the expected or preferred perlocutionary effect of the request, or not to comply with it, which is its unexpected or dispreferred perlocutionary effect.

Linguistic performance may also make manifest, to a greater or lesser extent, assumptions which the mind may exploit as premises amenable to yield a wide array of conclusions. Such conclusions are weak implicatures and are drawn as a result of the constant search for optimal relevance. Many of them are not intended by communicators, but hearers derive them at their own risk. Moreover, hearers may not even be fully aware of them or their content, so they are like impressions (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995; Wilson and Sperber 2004). For instance, stuttering, some tones of voice or gestures may make manifest assumptions referring to nervousness or anxiety, and lead to conclude that the stutterer is uncertain about something or afraid of someone. Asking for a glass of water through an conventionally indirect request such as “Could I have some water, please?” may make manifest assumptions about the requester’s attitude and prompt the hearer to deduce that she is seeking to be polite.

Unskilled lexical performance may likewise induce people to conclude that a speaker is less competent than expected, or than average, in terms of vocabulary. If during an Old English class a student used the nominal phrases “that symbol” or “that letter” instead of the term ‘thorn’ to refer to ‘ϸ’, the teacher could conclude that the student has missed several classes or is not very knowledgeable of the Old English alphabet. If, while watching a Holy Week procession in Seville, someone referred to one of the vases or amphoras on a float through the Spanish word ‘jarrón’ instead of using the specialised term ‘jarra’ or ‘ánfora’, a local well versed in this religious festival would very likely think that the speaker is alien to it, has no idea of the various ornaments and decorations in floats, or does not know how to properly refer to them.

Lexical Problems and Epistemic Injustice

What is at stake here is an area of an individual’s communicative competence: lexical competence. While lack of vocabulary may reveal a conceptual lacuna or lack of the conceptual tools to make experience intelligible or to correctly allude to specific items, misuse of words may unveil erroneous mappings of concepts onto words, which similarly prevent a speaker from correctly naming elements in reality according to the addressees or a community of practice’s standards (Speber and Wilson 1997). Upon lack or misuse of vocabulary, the audience, depending on benevolence and condescendence, the sort of information manifest to them and the inferences they make, may arrive at prejudicial or detrimental conclusions, which might not be in the interest of the speaker owing to their partiality or inaccuracy. Those conclusions may add to the audience’s knowledge about the speaker and become the basis of an epistemic injustice (Fricker 2003, 2006, 2007). It would be ‘epistemic’ because it has to do with knowledge about the person who lacks or misuses words; it is an ‘injustice’ because the audience, on the grounds of perception of just a part of a person’s behaviour, might not construe adequate or fair knowledge about her.

In the realm of communication and verbal interaction, epistemic injustices may arise when people perceive that speakers appear less competent than expected or than average in some domain. Epistemic injustices may be unexpected or undesired perlocutionary effects and may negatively bias the testimony subsequently dispensed about an unskilled speaker, thus affecting her reputation. The question that now arises is what type(s) of epistemic injustice lack and misuse of vocabulary may give rise to.

Definitely, none of them may result in testimonial injustices because what is at stake is not the speaker’s ability to give information or the truthfulness of the information imparted. Lack of specific vocabulary would not a bring about a contributory injustice either, since the speaker lacks the words to correctly talk about specific issues, and contributory injustices arise when, despite possession of appropriate conceptual tools, a person is not understood on purpose. Misuse of vocabulary, in turn, would not trigger a contributory injustice because words do not match the appropriate concepts and the hearer does not willfully refrain from understanding the speaker. Could lack and misuse of vocabulary then result in hermeneutical injustices?

As regards lack of vocabulary, there is a conceptual lacuna that prevents the speaker from being understood as they would have expected or desired, so it could be considered to give rise to a special type of hermeneutical injustice. However, this would be problematic for two reasons: (i) there is a perpetrator of the injustice, and proper hermeneutical injustices do not have one, and (ii) the injustice stems from negative conclusions about the speaker’s performance as a consequence of poor lexical abilities. Therefore, lack and misuse of vocabulary could be better argued to give rise to an epistemic injustice about the speaker’s competence, so this is why such injustice may be better characterised as a conceptual competence injustice.

A conceptual competence injustice not only negatively affects the speaker’s lexical competence, but also her credibility (Anderson 2017). Since information and people are judged reliable or credible if they suggest sound knowledge about a particular domain, being perceived as lacking appropriate words or misusing them may decrease a speaker’s credibility because they exhibit lack of knowledge. When someone suffers a hermeneutical injustice, that person is denied epistemic trustworthiness and degraded as a knower (Fricker 2007). When a speaker is inflicted a conceptual competence injustice, they would not be completely denied communicative competence, as they are capable of producing expressive acts, even if defectively. What is at stake is simply a component of communicative competence: lexical repertoire. Competence is a gradual and comparative property: people may be more or less competent in some domains, at particular moments or in specific circumstances, or more or less competent than other people (Medina 2011). If a speaker sustains a conceptual competence injustice, they could be degraded as a knower of only some domain corresponding to a particular semantic field, but never as a fully competent speaker of a language.

The speaker in question would only be degraded as a knower of a language in some respects and could be denied what may be labelled lexical reliability or accuracy: the ability to select and use appropriate words in order to name objects, animals, events, etc. and refer to them. This should feature as a component of communicative competence. When someone is inflicted a conceptual competence injustice, they are perceived as less competent as regards vocabulary, and a person who is incompetent in terms of vocabulary, and ultimately in conceptual terms, cannot be veridical because they lack certain words or fail to use them correctly. Accordingly, that person may receive what Dotson (2011) calls testimonial quieting, a phenomenon occurring when an audience do not recognise someone as a knower and refuse to pay attention or accept what they say about a specific domain of knowledge.


Production of words and utterances may have varied perlocutionary effects, some of which are unexpected or undesired. Lack or misuse of vocabulary may give rise to detrimental conclusions about speakers, which may lead an audience to wrong her. The notion of hermeneutical injustice proves problematic in order to define and characterise such wronging, and so does that of contributory injustice. Another notion alluding to competence is called for, and that is Anderson’s (2017) notion of conceptual competence injustice. It may certainly be most helpful to linguistic pragmatics as a way to conceptualise some of the manifold consequences of communicative behaviour.


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

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Fricker, Miranda. “Epistemic Injustice and a Role for Virtue in the Politics of Knowing.” Metaphilosophy 34, no. 1-2 (2003): 154-173.

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[1] Following a relevance-theoretic convention, the mental concepts encoded by some words are notated in small caps.

[2] In relevance-theoretic pragmatics, the notion of manifestness refers to the capability of some fact or state of affairs to be mentally represented by an individual (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995).

[3] Relevance is a property of stimuli, which increases as the amount of cognitive effectsstrengthening or contradiction of previous information, or contextual implications– increases and decreases as the amount of cognitive effort invested in processing increases.

[4] Note that to speakers, what they mean may be clear enough, as they tend to be egocentric and might not take into account their interlocutors’ mental states (Keysar and Henly 2002; Shintel and Keysar 2009).

Author Information: Leonie Smith, University of St. Andrews,

Smith, Leonie. “Challenges and Suggestions for a Social Account of Testimonial Sensitivity.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 6 (2016): 18-26.

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Editor’s Note:

    The SERRC thanks the contributors and participants—especially William Tuckwell—at the Tartu Graduate Conference in Social Epistemology, at the University of Tartu on 26-27 March 2016, for allowing us to publish selected papers. We will bring these papers, and subsequent replies, together in a special issue of the SERRC.


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Recent work on epistemic injustice has re-ignited the importance of sensitivity-analyses of knowledge, via the possibility of audiences being insufficiently sensitive to the testimonial credibility of prejudiced-against speakers.[1] The focus of this work has quite rightly been on demonstrating the epistemic harms to potential testifiers when sensitivity fails to apply. However there is clearly a corollary impact on audiences, and their ability to achieve knowledge from testimonial sources, when they fail to apply appropriate conditions of sensitivity with regard to the testimony of others. The notion of being appropriately-sensitive, implicitly assumes that we can make sense of what these sensitivity conditions on testimonial-knowledge formation might be.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Ben Sherman, Brandeis University,

Sherman, Ben. “Learning How to Think Better: A Response to Davidson and Kelly.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 3 (2016): 48-53.

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My thanks to Davidson and Kelly for their reply to my paper.[1] I am grateful on two counts in particular:  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Lacey J. Davidson, Purdue University,; Daniel R. Kelly, Purdue University,

Davidson, Lacey J. and Daniel R. Kelly. “Intuition, Judgment, and the Space Between: A Reply to Sherman.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 11 (2015): 15-20.

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“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” —John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Sherman (2015) agrees with Fricker (2007) that there is a problem, but disagrees about what to do about it. The problem is epistemic injustice, failing to take others as seriously as they deserve to be taken in matters epistemic, a form of miscalculation whose effects can not only stabilize and strengthen types of injustice that already exist, including types of inequality, prejudice, discrimination, but that can potentially produce new forms of injustice as well. Fricker sketches an account of testimonial justice, a virtue that, when properly nourished, she claims can serve as a corrective to epistemic injustice. Sherman is skeptical on many counts: that attempts to achieve testimonial justice would help —indeed, he worries that they would actually backfire and hinder the fight against epistemic injustice; that testimonial justice as depicted by Fricker is in fact a virtue; and that the virtue-theoretic framework via which Fricker expresses her notion of testimonial justice is generally viable anyway. Our reply to Sherman is broadly Frickerian in spirit, though the position we take departs Fricker’s own. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Mark Alfano, University of Oregon,

Alfano, Mark. “Becoming Less Unreasonable: A Reply to Sherman.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 7 (2015): 59-62.

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“I’m the most reasonable, responsible person here in Washington.”

That’s what John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, said in an interview with ABC News on November 9th, 2012. Whether you agree with Boehner or not, you might worry about anyone who endorses such a claim about themselves. No one is perfect, after all, and it’s likely that thinking of yourself as reasonable and fair in your opinions makes it harder to recognize and correct your own mistakes. In “There’s No (Testimonial) Justice” (2015), Benjamin R. Sherman raises a related concern about the pursuit of epistemic justiceContinue Reading…

Author Information: Laura Beeby, California State University, Fullerton,

Beeby, Laura. 2103. “Review of The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations, by José Medina.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (8): 66-70.

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The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations
by José Medina
Oxford University Press, 2012, 352 pp

José Medina’s picture of epistemic resistance is compelling because he presents epistemic activism as something that regular people can do in the course of their day-to-day lives. This is not a book about firebrands and grand sweeping change.  Instead it is mostly about what Medina calls “the everyday struggle toward epistemic justice”. Though he does highlight “epistemic heroes” like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Rosa Parks — people who resist unjust norms when few others have the courage and clarity to do so — it is clear that Medina intends that each of us take up a habitual stance of epistemic resistance, and moreover that this is not a particularly unreasonable expectation. We can participate in epistemic resistance while we work, while we raise families, or while we discuss news with our friends. This leaves the door open for those who do not see themselves as particularly radical — epistemically or otherwise — to join in the movement towards epistemic justice. For Medina, epistemic resistance is something both radical and unassuming.  In fact, the most subversive and radical knowers may be those who practice epistemic resistance almost unconsciously while they visit a supermarket or gather with friends and family. For Medina, to be epistemically resistant is to feel friction when relying on a single understanding, to constantly allow room for other voices and other ways of understanding and being in the world. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Miranda Fricker, University of Sheffield,

Fricker, Miranda. 2013. “How is hermeneutical injustice related to ‘white ignorance’? Reply to José Medina’s ‘Hermeneutical Injustice and Polyphonic Contextualism: Social Silences and Shared Hermeneutical Responsibilities’.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (8): 49-53.

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I have learned an enormous amount from all the discussions of epistemic injustice in the Review and Reply Collective, and I have found it virtually impossible to know how to intervene. However, something in José Medina’s discussion of hermeneutical injustice and, in particular, its relation to the phenomenon that Charles Mills has termed ‘white ignorance’, has opened up an issue to which I feel I can make a contribution. That is, despite being unsure about how best to relate the phenomenon I wrote about under the head ‘hermeneutical injustice’ to the phenomenon of white ignorance[1] (something Gaile Pohlhaus has also written about under the more generic label ‘willful hermeneutical ignorance’), I am inclined to express some disagreement with the direction Medina wants to take the category ‘hermeneutical injustice’. Continue Reading…

Author Information: James Bohman, Saint Louis University,

Please cite as:

Bohman, James. 2012. In defense of republican epistemology: Reply to May. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 1 (9): 42-45

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Editor’s Note: For additional context, please refer to:

Miranda Fricker’s masterful book, Epistemic Injustice, focuses our attention on a hitherto little studied form of injustice: epistemic injustice, where “any epistemic injustice wrongs someone in their capacity as a subject of knowledge, and thus in a capacity essential to human value” (2012: 5). As May points out, I do not think that Fricker’s account is sufficient, especially to the extent to which she depends largely on “corrective ethical-intellectual virtues” to able to improve our lives as subjects and objects of knowledge. Of course, she herself evinces some skepticism about the sufficiency of epistemic virtue on its own, when she immediately adds the caveat that there is “a limit to what virtues on the part of individuals can achieve when the root cause of epistemic injustice is structures of unequal power and the systemic prejudices they generate” (7-8). This concession on the limits of such virtues, however important they may be in particular instances of individual epistemic exclusion, motivates much of my criticisms of Fricker’s approach and my turn to republican epistemology. Continue Reading…