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"Epistemology and Tragedy", Regina Rini, York University

Regina Rini, York University
April 16, 2021 - 3:30pm to 5:30pm

via ZOOM

" Epistemology and Tragedy ", Regina Rini, York University


There's an increasingly popular argument form in socially-engaged epistemology. It goes like this: take a standard epistemic theory (e.g. internalism about justification) and apply it to marginalized people in contemporary society. Doing so produces unpalatable implications (e.g. denying that marginalized people could have justified belief in their own oppression). The unpalatable implication then counts as a problem for the standard epistemic theory. In this paper I will challenge the value of that argument form - but not for the reason you'd expect. I agree with its proponents that social implications matter to evaluating epistemic theories. But I will argue that epistemology needs to learn a lesson from ethics and politics: the lesson of tragedy. In non-ideal social circumstances, especially conditions of oppression, even the best normative theories are forced to generate unpalatable implications regarding marginalized people. This means that unpalatable social implications should not necessarily count as objections to epistemic theories. I illustrate this lesson by applying it to two recent instances of the argument form: Srinivasan on internalism and Gerken on pragmatic encroachment. If I am right, then the goal of socially-engaged epistemology cannot be only to provide ideal normative theory, but instead to aid the growing movement in ethics and politics toward non-ideal theory construction.