Epistemic Injustice and Epistemologies of Ignorance

Authored by: José Medina

The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Race

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  November  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415711234
eBook ISBN: 9781315884424
Adobe ISBN:


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Miranda Fricker has defined epistemic injustice “as a kind of injustice in which someone is wronged specifically in her capacity as a knower” (2007: 20). Although the topic of epistemic injustice has recently received a lot of attention, it had been systematically ignored in idealized discussions in epistemology that assumed the equal status and participation of all subjects in the epistemic practices in which understanding, belief, and knowledge are formed, communicated, and used. Idealized theories of understanding, belief, and knowledge disregard the differential epistemic agency of different subject positions and social locations, and they also neglect the internal relations and dialectics between understanding and misunderstanding, believing and disbelieving, knowing and ignoring. Taking seriously the power dynamics within epistemic practices involves unmasking “epistemologies of ignorance” that protect the voices, meaning, and perspectives of some by silencing the voices, meanings, and perspectives of others. Marxist theory, critical race theory, feminist theory, and queer theory have all produced powerful diagnoses of these “epistemologies of ignorance” by analyzing the impact of different forms of oppression (linked to class, race, gender, and sexuality) on our epistemic practices, and the different forms of epistemic injustice that relations of oppression produce. Although epistemologies of ignorance have been discussed by that name only recently (Mills 1997; Sullivan and Tuana 2007), they have always been a key theme of race theory, and they have figured prominently in the philosophies of race of classic authors such as Sojourner Truth, Anna J. Cooper, W.E.B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and Frantz Fanon, to name a few. Philosophers of race have developed robust discussions of social facts, experiences, and meanings that, as a result of racial oppression, become invisible, inaudible, or simply unintelligible in certain social locations and for certain perspectives that protect themselves from facing their involvement in racial oppression with a shield of active ignorance. The sections that follow elucidate the accounts of racial active ignorance and racial epistemic injustices developed in classic philosophies of race and in contemporary reflections on “epistemologies of ignorance.”

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