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Epistemic justice as a condition of political freedom?


I shall first briefly revisit the broad idea of ‘epistemic injustice’, explaining how it can take either distributive or discriminatory form, in order to put the concepts of ‘testimonial injustice’ and ‘hermeneutical injustice’ in place. In previous work I have explored how the wrong of both kinds of epistemic injustice has both an ethical and an epistemic significance—someone is wronged in their capacity as a knower. But my present aim is to show that this wrong can also have a political significance in relation to non-domination, and so to freedom. While it is only the republican conception of political freedom that presents nondomination as constitutive of freedom, I shall argue that non-domination is best understood as a thoroughly generic liberal ideal of freedom to which even negative libertarians are implicitly committed, for non-domination is negative liberty as of right—secured non-interference. Crucially on this conception, non-domination requires that the citizen can contest interferences. Pettit specifies three conditions of contestation, each of which protects against a salient risk of the would-be contester not getting a ‘proper hearing’. But I shall argue that missing from this list is anything to protect against a fourth salient threat: the threat that either kind of epistemic injustice might disable contestation by way of an unjust deflation of either credibility or intelligibility. Thus we see that both testimonial and hermeneutical injustice can render a would-be contester dominated. Epistemic justice is thereby revealed as a constitutive condition of non-domination, and thus of a central liberal political ideal of freedom.

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  1. 1.

    I have argued for this point about philosophical method more fully in Fricker (2012).

  2. 2.

    David Coady has rightly emphasized both these points; see Coady (2010).

  3. 3.

    For a fuller account of these kinds of epistemic injustice, see Fricker (2007).

  4. 4.

    Fricker (2007), Chap. 2 (2.3).

  5. 5.

    Skinner (1998, 2006) and Pettit (1997).

  6. 6.

    Wollstonecraft (1975); quoted in Pettit 1997, p. 61.

  7. 7.

    I make a more developed case in favour of Plato’s idea in terms of knowledge’s greater ‘resilience’ in Fricker (2009). Different arguments in its favour can be found in Williamson (2000), p. 79.

  8. 8.

    Pettit (2006), p. 225.

  9. 9.

    Pettit (1997), p. 56.

  10. 10.

    Pettit (1997), pp. 186, 187.

  11. 11.

    Pettit (1997), p. 191; italics added.

  12. 12.

    I thank Jules Holroyd for pointing out this possibility to me.

  13. 13.

    See Macpherson (1999).

  14. 14.

    When someone’s word is not even solicited owing to prejudice, the testimonial injustice is what I call ‘pre-emptive testimonial injustice’. On this point, and for a more detailed discussion of the present case, see Fricker (2012).

  15. 15.

    Macpherson (1999), p. 5.11; italics added.

  16. 16.

    Ho (2012).

  17. 17.

    Under UK law a defence of provocation might commute a charge of murder to one of manslaughter.

  18. 18.

    See Gilbert (1989, 2000, and 2006).

  19. 19.

    I have made a more detailed case for the coherence of this model of collective virtue in Fricker (2010).

  20. 20.

    See Bratman (1999).

  21. 21.

    See List and Pettit (2011), p. 33.

  22. 22.

    See List and Pettit (2011), Chap. 5.

  23. 23.

    The virtue of hermeneutical justice minimally requires that the hearer reliably detect situations in which the chief explanation for their interlocutor’s compromised intelligibility is an unjust gap in the collective stock of concepts and interpretations. See Fricker (2007), Chap. 7.4; on the virtue of testimonial justice see Chap. 4.


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I gave earlier versions of the material in this paper as differently oriented talks, and I am very grateful to participants on all those occasions for invaluable discussion. These include workshops at the University of Copenhagen and the University of Barcelona; political research seminars at the L.S.E., the University of Oxford, and the University of Warwick, colloquia at the University of Southampton, the University of Amsterdam, and the Humboldt University, Berlin, and the departmental seminar at Birkbeck.I have benefited enormously from discussion on all those occasions, and would thank in particular Michael Garnett, Jules Holroyd, Christian List, José Medina, Mari Mikkola, Jenny Saul, and Kai Spiekermann. I also thank an anonymous referee for helpful comments.

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Fricker, M. Epistemic justice as a condition of political freedom?. Synthese 190, 1317–1332 (2013).

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  • Freedom and Epistemic justice
  • Non-domination
  • Institutional virtue
  • Ethos
  • Testimonial injustice
  • Hermeneutical injustice