Epistemic Injustice

Hello everyone.  I apologize for my week long lack of posts.  I’m sure you were all getting extremely anxious in my absence :).  I have just returned from Thompson River University’s Philosophy, History, and Politics undergraduate conference.  Its the first philosophy conference I’ve been too, and I enjoyed myself considerably.  I was impressed with many of the undergraduate presentations, but I’ll have to give my ‘most interesting presentation’ award to one of the professor keynote speakers.  Jenna Woodrow is an assistant professor at TRU.  Her presentation was about a notion that I have never encountered before, epistemic justice.

Epistemic justice is the idea that there are epistemic goods which can be justly and unjustly distributed between agents (roughly speaking).  The bulk of Woodrow’s presentation was on the ways that agents can be epistemically impoverished.  She sketches out two types.  I don’t remember the titles that she used, but the first type of injustice is that some groups are epistemically maligned (distrusted by the powerful members of society), and the second type of injustice is that underprivileged groups are deprived of epistemic capabilities such as reasoning and speaking skills.

The first type is more straightforward then the second, both in concept and in rectification.  Some groups are distrusted by society (Woodrow’s examples were women and African Americans.)  Basically these groups are attributed less trust/credibility then are warranted.  The path to correction is relatively easy because it requires simply that those in power be aware of their own bias.  To counteract these inclinations, those in power just need to gather more information (basically if there is a credibility issue, counteract with more information).

Side note: an interesting aspect of this distrust is the notion of ‘incredible claim’.  The old adage is that one must provide extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims.  However, there is no formula for what makes a claim extraordinary except that it is outside of an agent’s usual experience.  Since marginalized groups often have very different life experiences then those in power, there are often discrepancies between what is considered an extraordinary claim by groups that are in and out of power.  An example is police brutality – those in power usually have no experience with police brutality, while marginalized groups are often quite familiar with police brutality.  Basically marginalized groups are more likely to be in a position where they must make claims that are considered extraordinary by those in power.

The second type is more challenging because those who are deprived of certain epistemic tools (such as reasoning capabilities, speaking skills, etc.) are actually less epistemically credible.  People who have been deprived of education and other valuable life experiences often lack essential tools that make their accounts/testimony reliable.  How should such epistemically deprived people be treated justly?

I thought that the talk was fascinating; let me know what you think,

Ryan Workman

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Reflecting on Conversation

One of the biggest challenges in examining ideas is talking/conversing with other people (so much so that I’m surprised that when I google ‘philosophy of conversation’, nothing really pops out.)  The main challenge often isn’t wrestling with the ideas, it’s not killing your discussion partner (I exaggerate, but only a little).  Conversations have a way of running away, many a friendship has been ruined by a conversation gone wrong, and it is a fixture of internet culture expectation that any conversation on anything meaningful will likely go spectacularly wrong.  I’ve unfortunately had both happen to me in the past.  I think an enormous part of the issue is that conversation is almost never just  about the subject under discussion – it is also about the people having the discussion.  We are heavily invested in our ideas, and so we can feel incredibly vulnerable.  When someone attacks our points, we often take the attack personally.  We feel we are not just having a conversation, but also a kind of competition.

There are a number of different loosely related topics I’d like to examine: talking with ignorant people, conversation tag, and arguing facts vs. arguing ethics.

A common reflection that I have heard on dialogue is that one should not engage an ignorant person in dialogue.  I would make an addendum to this concept, because I am very hesitant to condone the concept of the other as ‘ignorant’.  The notion is a kind of superiority trap, I think.  However, the core notion is still a very important one – knowing when to get out of a conversation.  I just think the focus should be inward, as opposed to on the other.  Know your limits, pay attention to your anger, pay attention to when you think the other is beginning to anger.  If you’re priority is really the idea, leave when the idea stops being the subject.

Conversation tag is an interesting phenomena of conversation.  I often find that the actual subject of a conversation can run away from us – discussions can often become a litany of facts and ideas which just rush by unexamined.  Facts, figures, and arguments rush by, and nothing ever seems to be pinned down.  I tend to think that this kind of rush inhibits meaningful conversation – if the goal is real reflection and examination, slow things down.  Try to give the conversation some structure.  Make sure you understand what the other person said.

Arguing facts vs. arguing ethics is a challenging notion.  This is a much more philosophical point then my other two.  There are many different takes on the matter.  Some think that arguing ethics is arguing facts – if two people agree on the facts then they will agree on the ethics (or the meaning) of of the facts.  Others would propose the is/ought gap – that facts are irrelevant to ethics.  One notion I’ve been nursing is that ethics is a matter of metaphysics – to argue ethics is to argue the nature of reality.  My proposal would be that ones ethics are already built in to ones world structure – a good case study being the Christian vs. the Relativist.  God is fundamental to a Christian’s metaphysics, while I think many relativists have a scientific realism metaphysics.

Let me know what you think,

CreativePhilo out!

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Nurture vs. Nature and Gender Identity – A debate on naturalistic normaitivity

One of the debates that I have followed/been engaged in is whether gender differences are completely societal or are to some degree inherent.  I’ve engaged in debate on the subject several times, but mostly it is a conversation that I have read about in various books.  My main source on the subject is Steven Pinker’s Blank Slate.  Pinker wrote the book was because he wanted to argue against the notion that we are purely products of society.

I am generally sympathetic to Pinker’s case, but I’ve begun to question the stakes of the debate.  What is it that the two sides are actually arguing about?  There is a scientific argument that is underlying the conversation, but I’m not sure that is actually the centre of the controversy.  I’m inclined to think that the actual subject under debate is much more political.  It seems to me like the debate is often of competing naturalistic ethics.  On reflection though, it seems to me that knowing the facts of the matter here are of little assistance if one does not buy into naturalistic ethics.  Whether there are natural sex differences seems to have little bearing (to me) on the rightness or wrongness of most actions pertinent to the debate.  Should children be raised in gender neutral ways?  Is it wrong for society to treat genders differently?  Are gender-based norms (girls wear pink, boys wear blue, etc) harmful?  Whether the schism is pre- or post- society seems… not particularly pertinent to the morality of a lot of these questions.  That men or women are inclined towards acting in a certain way doesn’t make it right (or wrong) – the origins of different behavioral patterns do not seem particularly relevant to me in examining the way that we want people to act.

The two sides do have dramatically different repercussions for how we should go about achieving our ends through public policy, however I feel the debate is more frequently framed as an issue of what public policy should aim to achieve.

Let me know what you think,


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Happy New Years/New Year’s Resolution

Happy new year everyone!

On that note, I am going to talk about new years resolutions.  One of my resolutions is to write more posts this year on CreativePhilo then I did last year (which shouldn’t be that difficult since I started CreativePhilo half way through last year).

My impression of new-years resolutions in popular culture is that they are considered a joke.  People don’t keep resolutions, my cartoons tell me.  We resolve things (usually to lose weight), and then we inevitably fail.  I find it kind of funny how depressing this kind of joke is if I think about it (which in the end means the comic succeeds in being funny I guess.)

I do think that the comics (which have become the sum of popular cultures opinion on resolutions, apparently), identify an important point – changing ourselves is the hardest thing we ever do.  If we do not control ourselves, nothing else we do can really be said to be our own.  We probably fail more then we succeed.

 In my experience, probably the most important element of changing myself is not focusing on what I want to become.  If I focus on where I’m trying to get to, all that is visible is the distance.  I find myself much better off if I instead focus on the journey in small achievable steps.

What do you think of new-years resolutions?

Thanks for reading,

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