‘Rawlsian Liberalism as a Failure of Critique’ in Pathology Diagnosis and Social Research: New Applications and Explorations, ed. Neal Harris 2021, London: Palgrave MacMillan
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What Does Victim Testimony Tell Us About Justice?
In this paper, I argue that reasons political philosophers do not attend to victim testimony do not hold up to scrutiny, and that attending to victim testimony is necessary to avoid status quo bias.
Political Realism, Standpoint Epistemology, and Status Quo Bias
In this paper, I address the concern that political realism is a methodology vulnerable to status quo bias. Specifically, I present a tool for avoiding status quo bias that the realist is traditionally sceptical of. I show that this scepticism is unwarranted, and that it solves one specific, otherwise unaddressed concern about status quo bias. The tool in question is that of feminist standpoint epistemology, and the idea that victims of oppression have unique knowledge about the oppression that they experience.
The Vices of Oppression
In this paper, I challenge the idea that privileged groups are prone to epistemic vices, while belonging to an oppressed group often is accompanied by epistemic virtue (Fricker 2007, Medina 2013). I argue that victims are disposed to develop many of the same epistemic vices as everybody else, and also that there are specific, character forming features of oppression that may dispose one to a specific kind of epistemic vice I call ‘epistemic hopelessness’. Further, in light of this, I show that the core of Medina and Fricker’s claims can only be retained if we describe the epistemic virtues that victims of oppression are disposed to hold as group virtues.
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There is a growing recognition both within and outside academia that victims of injustice may have privileged access to knowledge about the injustices they experience. Political philosophers, however, do not tend to rely on victim testimony in seeking to understand concepts such as justice and injustice. In my PhD thesis, entitled ‘What Do Experiences of Injustice Tell Us About Justice?’, I ask if this is warranted, and I argue the following: there are many epistemic barriers to knowledge about injustices, such as implicit and explicit biases, and the lack of adequate hermeneutical resources, but victims have unique access to knowledge of injustices because they live through them. However, I then go on to argue that the epistemic benefits of attending to victim testimony are unreliable, as there are epistemic obstacles to victims noticing, understanding, and conceptualising their experiences, and there are obstacles to victims testifying, and being heard in a way that fully communicates the relevant knowledge about the injustice at hand. This may thereby justify the failure of analytic political philosophers to engage with victim testimony.
However, I then show how victim testimony can become a reliable source of epistemically justified claims about injustice if it is processed through the practice of consciousness raising, as developed by second wave feminist groups. As a result, when mainstream methodologies in political philosophy do not center victim testimony, they leave themselves open to the possibility that their version of just societies would retain within them various forms of injustice.
Finally, I critically examine a second possible justification for political philosophers not to attend to victim testimony. This is the idea that while victim testimony may be potentially informative for public policy concerned with improving the situation of marginalized communities, it is not clear that the same is the case when determining abstract political concepts such as justice. I respond to this by arguing that consciousness raising also shows how victim testimony can (and should) productively inform how we arrive at conclusions about justice.