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Harms and Wrongs in Epistemic Practice

  • Simon Barker (a1), Charlie Crerar (a2) and Trystan S. Goetze (a1)


This volume has its roots in two recent developments within mainstream analytic epistemology: a growing recognition over the past two or three decades of the active and social nature of our epistemic lives; and, more recently still, the increasing appreciation of the various ways in which the epistemic practices of individuals and societies can, and often do, go wrong. The theoretical analysis of these breakdowns in epistemic practice, along with the various harms and wrongs that follow as a consequence, constitutes an approach to epistemology that we refer to as non-ideal epistemology. In this introductory chapter we introduce and contextualise the ten essays that comprise this volume, situating them within four broad sub-fields: vice epistemology, epistemic injustice, inter-personal epistemic practices, and applied epistemology. We also provide a brief overview of several other important growth areas in non-ideal epistemology.


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1 The distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory in political theory is typically traced to Rawls’, John A Theory of Justice (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972). Mills, Charles W. offers a powerful defence of the significance of non-ideal theory within political philosophy in his ‘“Ideal Theory” as Ideology’, Hypatia 20 (2005), 165184.

2 Battaly, Heather, ‘Virtue Epistemology’, Philosophy Compass 3 (2008), 639663; John Turri, Mark Alfano, and John Greco, ‘Virtue Epistemology’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <>.

3 Some relatively early exceptions to virtue epistemology's focus on the positive include: Swank, Casey, ‘Epistemic Vice’, in Axtell, Guy (ed.) Knowledge, Belief, and Character: Readings in Contemporary Virtue Epistemology (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), 195204; Fricker, Miranda, Epistemic Injustice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). For discussion of why vice has been overlooked in the virtue epistemological literature, see Charlie Crerar, ‘Motivational Approaches to Intellectual Vice’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy (Forthcoming).

4 A further, arguably related, non-ideal approach to virtue epistemology is represented by the situationist challenge, which employs psychological evidence to argue that true epistemic virtues are, in fact, vanishingly rare. See, for example, Alfano, Mark, Character as Moral Fiction (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013); Olin, Lauren and Dorris, John M., ‘Vicious Minds’, Philosophical Studies 168 (2014), 665692; Fairweather, Abrol and Alfano, Mark (eds.), Epistemic Situationism (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017).

5 Cassam, Quassim, ‘Vice Epistemology’, The Monist 99 (2016), 159180. Other prominent works in vice epistemology include: Battaly, Heather, ‘Epistemic Virtue and Vice: Reliabilism, Responsibilsm, and Personalism’ in Mi, Chienkuo, Slote, Michael, and Sosa, Ernest (eds.), Moral and Intellectual Virtues in Chinese and Western Philosophy: The Turn Towards Virtue (New York, NY: Routledge, 2016), 99120; Kidd, Ian James, ‘Charging Others with Epistemic Vice’, The Monist 99 (2016), 181197; Tanesini, Alessandra, ‘“Calm Down Dear”: Intellectual Arrogance, Silencing, and Ignorance’, Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 90 (2016), 7192.

6 Cassam, Quassim, ‘Vice Ontology’, Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6 (2017), 2027, at 20.

7 Battaly, Heather, ‘Can Closed-Mindedness be an Intellectual Virtue?’, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 84 (2018), 23.

8 Battaly, ‘Can Closed-Mindedness be an Intellectual Virtue?’, 29.

9 Tanesini, Alessandra, ‘Caring for Esteem and Intellectual Reputation: Some Epistemic Benefits and Harms’, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 84 (2018), 49.

10 Tanesini, ‘Caring for Esteem and Intellectual Reputation’, 53.

11 Dotson, Kristie, ‘Conceptualizing Epistemic Oppression’, Social Epistemology 28 (2014), 115–38, at 115. Examples of early articulations of this kind of idea are found in Frye, Marilyn, The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (Berkeley, CA: The Crossing Press, 1983); Lorde, Audre, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, (Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1984); Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’, in Nelson, C. & Grossberg, L. (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 271313; Collins, Patricia Hill, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2009), 1st ed. published 1991; Code, Lorraine, Rhetorical Spaces: Essays on Gendered Locations (London: Routledge, 1995); Mills, Charles W., The Racial Contract (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999); Lugones, María, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). Types of epistemic oppression other than epistemic injustice have been discussed in, for example, Dotson, Kristie, ‘Tracking Epistemic Violence, Tracking Practices of Silencing’, Hypatia 26 (2011), 236–57; Medina, José, The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Berenstain, Nora, ‘Epistemic Exploitation’, Ergo 3 (2016), 569–90.

12 For a comprehensive overview of work on epistemic injustice, see Kidd, Ian James, Medina, José, and Pohlhaus, Gaile (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice (London: Routledge, 2017).

13 Fricker, Epistemic Injustice, 1.

14 See also Wanderer, Jeremy, ‘Addressing Testimonial Injustice: Being Ignored and Being Rejected’, Philosophical Quarterly 62 (2012), 148169; Pohlhaus, Gaile, ‘Discerning the Primary Epistemic Harm in Cases of Testimonial Injustice’, Social Epistemology 28 (2014), 99114; Davis, Emmalon, ‘Typecasts, Tokens, and Spokespersons: A Case for Credibility Excess as Testimonial InjusticeHypatia 31 (2016), 485501.

15 See also Mason, Rebecca, ‘Two Kinds of Unknowing’, Hypatia 26 (2011), 294307; Crerar, Charlie, ‘Taboo, Hermeneutical Injustice, and Expressively Free Environments’, Episteme 13 (2016), 195207; Goetze, Trystan S., ‘Hermeneutical Dissent and the Species of Hermeneutical Injustice’, Hypatia 33 (2018), 7390.

16 Pohlhaus, Gaile, ‘Relational Knowing and Epistemic Injustice: Toward a Theory of Willful Hermeneutical Ignorance’, Hypatia 27 (2012), 715–35; Dotson, Kristie, ‘A Cautionary Tale: On Limiting Epistemic Oppression’, Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies 33 (2012), 2447; Coady, David, ‘Two Concepts of Epistemic Injustice’, Episteme 7 (2012), 101113; Hookway, Christopher, ‘Some Varieties of Epistemic Injustice: Reflections on Fricker’, Episteme 7 (2010), 151–63.

17 Kotzee, Ben, ‘Educational Justice, Epistemic Justice, and Leveling Down’, Educational Theory 63 (2013), 331–50; Jenkins, Katharine, ‘Rape Myths and Domestic Abuse Myths as Hermeneutical Injustices’, Journal of Applied Philosophy 34 (2017), 191205; Teri Merrick, ‘From “Intersex” to “DSD”: A Case of Epistemic Injustice’, Synthese (forthcoming).

18 Grasswick, Heidi, ‘Understanding Epistemic Trust Injustices’, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 84 (2018), 69.

19 Bailey, Alison, ‘On Anger, Silence, and Epistemic Injustice’, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 84 (2018), 93.

20 See Lugones, Pilgrimages/Pereginajes.

21 For a snapshot of the debate on disagreement, see Feldman, Richard and Warfield, Ted (eds.), Disagreement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) and Christensen, David & Lackey, Jennifer (eds.), The Epistemology of Disagreement: New Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). For work on disagreement with and between groups, see Carter, J. Adam, ‘Group Peer Disagreement’, Ratio 27 (2016), 1128; Frances, Bryan, Disagreement (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014); Mattias Skipper and Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen, ‘Group Disagreement: A Belief Aggregation Perspective’, Synthese (forthcoming); Christensen, David, ‘Disagreement and Public Controversy’, in Lackey, Jennifer (ed.), Essays in Collective Epistemology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 143163. For work on deep disagreement, where disagreements in belief can be explained by underlying differences in the norms, principles, and commitments that shape the disputant's epistemic practices, see Kappel, Klemens, ‘The Problem of Deep Disagreement’, Discipline Filosofiche 22 (2012), 725; Lynch, Michael P., ‘Epistemic Circularity and Epistemic Disagreement’, in Haddock, Adrian, Millar, Alan and Pritchard, Duncan (eds.), Social Epistemology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 262277; Alvin Goldman, ‘Epistemic Relativism and Reasonable Disagreement’, in Feldman & Warfield (eds.), Disagreement 187–215. Four examples of recent work taking the debate in new directions are De Cruz, Helen and De Smedt, John, ‘The Value of Epistemic Disagreement in Scientific Practice: The Case of Homo Floresiensis’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (2013), 169177; Faulkner, Paul, ‘Agency and Disagreement’, in Reider, Patrick (ed.), Social Epistemology and Epistemic Agency: Decentralizing the Epistemic Agent (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 7590; Matheson, Jonathan, ‘Disagreement and the Ethics of Belief’, in Collier, James H. (ed.), The Future of Social Epistemology: A Collective Vision (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 139147; Peter, Fabienne, ‘The Epistemic Circumstances of Democracy’, in Fricker, Miranda and Brady, Michael (eds.), The Epistemic Life of Groups (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 133149.

22 For a summary of the debate on testimony, see Lackey, Jennifer, ‘Testimonial Knowledge’, in Bernecker, Sven and Pritchard, Duncan (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Epistemology (New York: Routledge, 2011), 316325. Recently, a number of robustly inter-personal accounts of testimony have been forwarded, including Moran, Richard, The Exchange of Words: Speech, Testimony, and Intersubjectivity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018); Faulkner, Paul, Knowledge on Trust (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Goldberg, Sanford, Relying on Others: An Essay in Epistemology. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). See also more general discussion of the inter-personal nature of trust, including: Baier, Annette, ‘Trust and Antitrust’, Ethics 96 (1986), 231260; Faulkner, Paul, ‘The Practical Rationality of Trust’, Synthese 191 (2014), 19751989; Holton, Richard, ‘Deciding to Trust, Coming to Believe’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 72 (1994), 6376; Hawley, Katherine, ‘Partiality and Prejudice in Trusting’, Synthese 191 (2014), 20292045; Jones, Karen, ‘Trust as an Affective Attitude’, Ethics 107 (1996), 425.

23 For other recent work on the public problem of disagreement, see Jennifer Lackey, ‘The Duty to Object’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming); Johnson, Casey Rebecca (ed.), Voicing Dissent: The Ethics and Epistemology of Making Disagreement Public, (New York: Routledge, 2018).

24 Bailey, Olivia, ‘On Empathy and Testimonial TrustRoyal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 84 (2018), 139.

25 Olivia Bailey, ‘On Empathy and Testimonial Trust’, 149.

26 Hanna Gunn and Michael P. Lynch, ‘Google Epistemology’, in David Coady (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Applied Epistemology (New York: Routledge, Forthcoming); Heersmink, Richard, ‘A Virtue Epistemology of the Internet’, Social Epistemology 32 (2018), 112.

27 Rini, Regina, ‘Fake News and Partisan Epistemology’, Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 27 (2017) 4364; Gelfert, AxelFake News: A Definition’, Informal Logic 38 (2018), 84117.

28 Gardiner, Georgi, ‘In Defence of Reasonable Doubt’, Journal of Applied Philosophy 34 (2017), 221241.

29 For more contributions to applied epistemology, see: Coady, David, What To Believe Now: Applying Epistemology to Contemporary Issues (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012); Coady, David and Fricker, Miranda (eds.), Special Issue on Applied Epistemology, Social Epistemology 34 (2017); Coady, David and Chase, James (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Applied Epistemology (New York: Routledge, 2018).

30 Cassam, Quassim, ‘The Epistemology of Terrorism and Radicalisation‘, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 84 (2018), 188.

31 Cassam, ‘The Epistemology of Terrorism and Radicalisation’, 199.

32 See, for instance, Coady, David (ed.), Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006); Dentith, Matthew, The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); Feldman, Susan, Counterfact Conspiracy Theories’, International Journal of Applied Philosophy 25 (2011), 1524; M. R. X. Dentith and Brian Keeley. ‘The applied epistemology of conspiracy theories: An overview’ in Coady and Chase (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Applied Epistemology.

33 Harris, Keith, ‘What's epistemically wrong with conspiracy theorising?’, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 84 (2018), 249.

34 Harris, ‘What's epistemically wrong with conspiracy theorising?’, 255.

35 See, for example, Kitcher, Philip, Science, Truth, and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Kourany, Janet A., ‘A Philosophy of Science for the Twenty-First Century’, Philosophy of Science 70 (2003), 114; Plaisance, Kathryn and Fehr, Carla (eds.), Special Issue: Making Philosophy of Science More Socially Relevant, Synthese 177 (2010), 301492; McHugh, Nancy Arden, The Limits of Knowledge: Generating Pragmatist Feminist Cases for Situated Knowing (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2015).

36 Fehr, Carla and Plaisance, Kathryn, ‘Socially Relevant Philosophy of Science: An Introduction’, Synthese 177 (2010), 301316.

37 For a recent collection discussing this and related questions, see Peels, Rik and Blaauw, Martijn (eds.), The Epistemic Dimensions of Ignorance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

38 See, among others, Smith, Holly M., ‘Culpable Ignorance’, The Philosophical Review 92 (1983), 543–71; Rosen, Gideon, ‘Culpability and Ignorance’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 103 (2003), 6184; Sher, George, Who Knew? Responsibility Without Awareness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

39 An exception is Peels, Rik, ‘What Kind of Ignorance Excuses? Two Neglected Issues’, Philosophical Quarterly 64 (2014), 478–96.

40 Mills, Charles W., The Racial Contract (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997). See also Tuana, Nancy and Sullivan, Shannon (eds.), Special Issue: Feminist Epistemologies of Ignorance, Hypatia 21 (2006); Sullivan, Shannon and Tuana, Nancy (eds.), Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2007).

41 See also Townley, Cynthia, A Defence of Ignorance: Its Value for Knowers and Roles in Feminist and Social Epistemologies (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2011).

42 See, for example, Naylor, Margery Bedford, ‘Epistemic Justification’, American Philosophical Quarterly 25 (1988), 4958; Alston, William, ‘The Deontological Conception of Justification’, Philosophical Perspectives 2 (1988), 257–99; Feldman, Richard, ‘Voluntary Belief and Epistemic Evaluation’, in Steup, Matthias (ed.), Knowledge, Truth, and Duty: Essays on Epistemic Justification, Responsibility, and Virtue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 7792.

43 An exception is Rettler, Lindsay, ‘In Defense of Doxastic BlameSynthese 195 (2018), 2205–26. An argument against there being a distinctively epistemic form of blame is in Kauppinen, Antti, ‘Epistemic Norms and Epistemic Accountability’, Philosophers’ Imprint 18 (2018), 116.

44 Burgess, Alexis and Plunkett, David, ‘Conceptual Ethics I’, Philosophy Compass 8 (2013), 10911101, at 1096.

45 Burgess and Plunkett, ‘Conceptual Ethics I’, 1096–7.

46 Cappelen, Herman, Fixing Language: An Essay on Conceptual Engineering, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

47 Burgess and Plunkett, ‘Conceptual Ethics I’.

48 Haslanger, Sally, Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

49 Haslanger, Sally, ‘Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them to Be?’, Noûs 34 (2000), 3155; Jenkins, Katharine, ‘Amelioration and Inclusion: Gender Identity and the Concept of Woman’, Ethics 126 (2016), 394421.

50 Dembroff, Robin A., ‘What Is Sexual Orientation?Philosophers’ Imprint 16 (2016), 127; Díaz-León, Esa, ‘Sexual Orientation as Interpretation? Sexual Desires, Concepts, and Choice’, Journal of Social Ontology 3 (2017), 231248.

51 Stoljar, Natalie, ‘What Do We Want Law to Be? Philosophical Analysis and the Concept of Law’, in Waluchow, Wil and Sciaraffa, Stefan (eds.), Philosophical Foundations of the Nature of Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

52 See, in addition to works cited in fn. 11 above, Haraway, Donna, ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’, Feminist Studies 14 (1988), 575–99; Code, Lorraine, What Can She Know? Feminist Theory and Construction of Knowledge (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Mills, Charles W., ‘Alternative Epistemologies’, in Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 2139; Alcoff, Linda and Potter, Elizabeth (eds.), Feminist Epistemologies (London: Routledge, 1993); Said, Edward, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978); Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, The Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1990); Ermine, Willie, ‘Aboriginal Epistemology’, in Battiste, M. and Barman, J. (eds.), First Nations Education in Canada: The Circle Unfolds, (Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 2000), 101111; Anita Silvers, “Feminist Perspectives on Disability”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <>, §3.

53 Rooney, Phyllis, ‘The Marginalization of Feminist Epistemology and What That Reveals About Epistemology “Proper”’, in Grasswick, Heidi (ed.), Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science (Dordrecht: Springer, 2011), 324; Dotson, Kristie, ‘How is This Paper Philosophy?’, Comparative Philosophy 3 (2012), 329; Jenkins, Katharine, ‘“That's Not Philosophy”: Feminism, Academia and the Double Bind’, Journal of Gender Studies 23 (2014), 262–74.

Harms and Wrongs in Epistemic Practice

  • Simon Barker (a1), Charlie Crerar (a2) and Trystan S. Goetze (a1)


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