On the Harms of Epistemic Injustice

Pragmatism and transactional epistemology

Authored by: Shannon Sullivan

The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138828254
eBook ISBN: 9781315212043
Adobe ISBN: 9781351814508


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What does pragmatist philosophy have to offer accounts of epistemic injustice? In this chapter, I answer that question by reading Miranda Fricker’s groundbreaking Epistemic Injustice (2007) through a pragmatist lens. In particular, I examine the type of harms caused by testimonial and hermeneutical injustice and argue that Fricker’s account of epistemic harm would be improved by the pragmatist epistemology provided by John Dewey. While Fricker’s discussion of epistemic injustice tends to rely on a representational account of knowledge, Dewey’s pragmatism understands knowledge as transactional. 1 This means that for Dewey, knowing is not a process of mirroring reality (to borrow Richard Rorty’s [1979] Deweyan-inspired words), but instead an activity undertaken by a bodily organism-in-the-world who helps shape what is known. Considering knowledge as transactional rather than representational recasts the harm of epistemic injustice as a harm done to the flourishing of a human organism, rather than as an unfair exclusion from a process of pooling of knowledge. Conceiving the harm of epistemic injustice as a type of ontological-environmental damage can help feminists, critical philosophers of race, and others more effectively understand and counter the harmful effects of testimonial injustice. This notion of harm also better explains what Fricker herself is trying to achieve when she describes the effects of hermeneutical injustice as damaging constructions of selfhood.

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