Miranda Fricker Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing (OUP, 2007)
Epistemology and Ethics have traditionally been kept apart. This book brings them together. Miranda Fricker focuses on two kinds of epistemic injustice: the injustice that occurs when someone is not treated seriously as a possible source of knowledge (testimonial injustice) and the injustice that occurs when a society lacks a conceptual framework for understanding the experiences of someone who has been treated badly (hermeneutic injustice). An example of the first kind is when someone stopped by the police is not believed because he is black; an example of the second type is when someone is a victim of sexual harrassment in a society that still lacks that concept. Both are kinds of epistemic injustice in Fricker's terms. That is they are harms that an individual suffers that relate to that individual's potential to give knowledge and to be a subject of social understanding.
Through a mixture of abstract theorising and detailed case studies from film, literature and life, Fricker explores some of the injustices that occur when we allow our prejudices to determine our assessment of other people. She also sketches the key features of the virtues that should act as prophylactics against such prejudice. For me, though, the strength of this book lies in the detailed descriptions of the peculiar damage done to individuals (and society) when they are unfairly dismissed as unlikely to be adequate providers of knowledge.
In Harper Lee's novel To Kill A Mockingbird (and presumably in the reality on which it was largely based), a young black man Tom Robinson accused of raping a white girl, is denied credibility: every reasonable explanation of his behaviour is interpreted in the worst light by the jury and his word is not trusted because of prejudice. In Fricker's slightly awkward term he suffers 'prejudicial credibility deficit' ( i.e. people don't trust him, but without good reason). Stereotypes distort the listeners' interpretation of everything he says. In a less extreme case, Jean-Paul Sartre undermined Simone de Beauvoir's credibility by attacking her intellectual confidence...Fricker goes on to discuss the virtue of testimonial justice that involves correcting for prejudice... a virtue easier outlined than exhibited, I fear. Her diagnoses of injustice, particularly testimonial injustice, are, though important and interesting and this is clearly a ground-breaking book. It foregrounds issues that are easily ignored, and reveals their structure. The solutions are less developed than the diagnoses...but the diagnoses are what really matter.
Sadly, OUP, which has charitable status, (and so is not taxed), has nevertheless chosen to sell this 184-page hardback at £27.50 in the UK, thereby committing a 'pricing credibility deficit'. This is a shame, because it will mean students will have to fight over library copies of this book - perhaps a different kind of epistemic injustice?