Epistemic injustice in utterance interpretation
There has been much recent discussion of the harmful role prejudicial stereotypes play in our communicative exchanges. For example, Fricker (Epistemic injustice: power and ethics of knowing, 2007) explores a type of injustice (testimonial injustice) which arises when the credibility judgments we make about speakers are informed by prejudicial stereotypes. This discussion has so far focused on the role stereotypes play in our epistemic assessments of communicative actions, rather than our interpretations of such actions. However, the same prejudicial stereotypes that infect credibility judgments can also infect our interpretation of the speaker, leading to uncharitable interpretation (call this ‘interpretative injustice’). This paper explores the sources of interpretative injustice, and considers some of the harms to which it gives rise. There are several harms caused by interpretative injustice. Firstly, it constitutes a form of silencing. It prevents certain groups from being able to efficiently communicate knowledge to other (perhaps more powerful) groups. Secondly it results in speakers being held epistemically responsible for propositions they never intended to communicate. And thirdly, it contributes to the illusion that prejudicial low credibility judgments are epistemically justified. I close by arguing that if Miranda Fricker’s strategy for treating testimonial injustice is implemented in absence of a treatment of interpretative injustice then we risk epistemically harming the hearer with little benefit to the speaker. Thus testimonial injustice and interpretative injustice are best treated in tandem.
KeywordsTestimony Communication Epistemic injustice Social cognition
This paper as benefited greatly from comments and discussions with Sebastian Becker, Herman Cappelen, Josh Habgood-Coote, Elizabeth Fricker, Patrick Greenough, Elizabeth Marr, Matthew McKeever, Leonard Randall, Caroline Touborg, Brian Weatherson, and two anonymous referees for this journal. I would also like audiences at the St Andrews Friday Seminar, and the Arché work in progress seminar where this work was presented. This research was supported by the United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Council, and a Royal Institute of Philosophy Bursary.
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