Maggie Roessler's Reviews > Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing

Epistemic Injustice by Miranda Fricker
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Jun 30, 2010

bookshelves: f-philosophy, know, l-british, read-2010-11

Testimonial justice is a basic ethical and epistemological virtue of truth. To have the virtue, we must try and succeed in adjusting our credibility assessments. The adjustment can be either naive, like Huckleberry Finn's, or corrective. If it's corrective, it can be either the result of active reflection or spontaneous. If it's spontaneous, it it was won either through personal familiarity with the informant or through experience. The virtue is probably best maintained through a combination of spontaneous and reflective adjustment.

There are two forms of credibility assessment: unreflective and reflective. Both can be critical. The reliability of unreflective assessments is particularly susceptible to the social imagination, which guides the subject as emotions and visceral images born of diachronic and synchronic social residue. Unreflective assessment is essential to our cognitive heuristics, including in cases of testimony. The social imagination is a good starting point, should you try to set out to make yourself or others more testimonially just. (For the same idea, but with 'belief' as social imagination and 'acceptance' as reflection, see: Jennifer Church, "Taking it to heart")

Testimonial justice is a third basic virtue of truth, next to Bernard Williams' Accuracy and Sincerity. She also uses the geneaological method influenced primarily by Craig's "Knowledge and the state of nature" to isolate those practices necessary to getting a pooling of information going in a state of nature.

I don't think it's so likely though, that Testimonial Justice has the same status as Accuracy and Sincerity. Not because it's a virtue of the hearer rather than the speaker, that's all well and good, but too many societies have met their cognitive needs through a concept of knowledge without at all drawing on the benefits of Testimonial Justice. The same could not be said for Accuracy and Sincerity.

The second form of epistemic injustice is hermeneutical injustice - the inability to explain oneself due to social hermeneutical marginalization. Like a credibility deficit, marginalization can be incidental or systematic, and can be a case of epistemic bad luck or an injustice. Example of overcoming hermeneutical marginilization: the speak outs organized by women during the second feminist movement. Finding words for sexual harassment and post-partum depression, for example, gave them the ability to act as reliable informants about these issues, and the power to insist on their positive credibility. I say, websites like and and whatever the future internet world will bring are dynamiting those hermeneutical barriers to dust.

These virtues and vices have political implications, but Fricker sticks with the epistemic and the moral evaluations.
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