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Dissertation Defense: Non-Ideal Epistemology in a Social World

Cat Saint-Croix
Friday, July 20, 2018
10:00 AM-12:00 PM
1164 Angell Hall Map
Maria Lasonen-Aarnio (co-chair)
Brian Weatherson (co-chair)
Jim Joyce
Eric Swanson
Ezra Keshet

Idealization is a necessity. Stripping away levels of complexity makes questions tractable, focuses our attention, and lets us develop comprehensible, testable models. Applying such models, however, requires care and attention to how the idealizations incorporated into their development affect their predictions. In epistemology, we tend to focus on idealizations concerning individual agents' capacities, such as memory, mathematical ability, and so on, when addressing this concern. By contrast, this dissertation focuses on the effect of social idealizations, particularly those pertaining to salient social categories like race, sex, and gender.

In Chapter II, Privilege and Superiority, we begin with standpoint epistemology, one of the earliest efforts to grapple with the ways that social structures affect our epistemic lives. I argue that, if we interpret standpoint epistemologists' claims as hypotheses about the ways that our social positions affect access to evidence, we can fruitfully employ recent developments in evidence logic to study the consequences. I lay the groundwork for this project, developing a model based on neighborhood semantics for modal logic. Adapting this framework to standpoint epistemology helps to clarify the meaning of terms like "epistemic privilege" and "superior knowledge" and to elucidate the differences between various accounts. I also address a longstanding criticism of these views: Longino's (1990) bias paradox, which suggests that there is no objective position from which to judge the goodness of a particular standpoint.

Chapter III, Evidence in a Non-Ideal World, turns to the broader social context, looking at how ideology affects the availability of evidence. Throughout the chapter, I take the formation, justification, and maintenance of racist, sexist, and otherwise oppressive beliefs as a central case. I argue that these beliefs are, at least sometimes, formed as a result of evidential distortion, a structural feature of our epistemic contexts that skews readily available evidence in favor of dominant ideologies. Because they are formed this way, such beliefs will appear justified on prominent accounts of justification, both internalist and externalist. As a result, epistemic norms that fail to account for such non-ideal conditions will deliver verdicts that are not only counter-intuitive, but also morally unpalatable. This, I argue, reveals a kind of structural epistemic injustice, especially where oppressive ideology is involved and suggests the need for epistemic norms that are sensitive to agents' social contexts.

Much of the discussion in Chapters II and III depends on social categories like race and gender, arguing that they have a distinctive influence on our epistemic lives. In Chapter IV, I Know You Are, But What Am I?, my co-author, Robin Dembroff, and I focus on social categories themselves, distinguishing between self-identity, social identity, and social role. We self-identify as gay or straight, men or women, couch-potatoes or gym rats. Sometimes, these identities affect our social roles --- the way we are perceived and treated by others --- and sometimes they do not. This relationship between our internal identities and our preferred public perceptions begs for explanation. On our account, this relationship is captured by what we refer to as "social identity"--- roughly, internal identities made available to others. We argue that this account of social identity plays an illuminating role in structural explanation of discrimination and individual behavior, dissolves puzzles surrounding the phenomenon of `passing', and explains certain moral and political obligations toward individuals.
Building: Angell Hall
Event Type: Other
Tags: Philosophy
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Department of Philosophy