What is the epistemically appropriate response to the discovery that one is implicitly biased against certain kinds of people? Discuss in relation to Fricker’s chapter and the presentation on affirmative action.
Fricker theorizes that biases and prejudice have their own epistemic consequences. Thus to reduce epistemic injustice, would cause biases to plummet. In clearer terms, she perceives epistemic injustice and bias as stark opposites functioning on a similar paradigm. Injustice cripples the moment of epistemic agency, making prejudice play a huge role in the analysis of an individual’s credulity. The development of intellectual courage to fight epistemic injustice, will cultivate enough awareness to steer clear of bias. But this over emphasis on a single individual’s knowledge, will lead to the suppression of other versions of reality shared by individuals who exist in variance to the norm in that space. When an individual’s identity stands in stark difference to familiar patterns, it becomes difficult to assign credibility to their voice. This becomes particularly difficult when practiced by institutions. Epistemic agents are intellectually biased and perceive their own forms of understanding to be superior to others. Intellectual courage could only create a surge in bias by raising the agent’s epistemic reliance on their own perceptions.
Affirmative action becomes an uncomfortable choice when seen through such a prism. It is almost a compensation for visible inequalities that have been raised from hermeneutic injustice. A broken system, which has resulted in the accumulation of injustice towards a certain section of people, tends to seek out solutions to balance the status quo. But this fix is only temporary, since the core inequality is never addressed. This conundrum can be seen from an entirely different light, the stark inequality within the system could be a result of preferential treatment levied on only a certain section of a collective. This collective seems to fulfil certain criteria’s to garner acceptance and preferential treatment.
Constant bias on a person shrivels their ability to be epistemically assertive, they imbibe the negative stereotype. Prejudicial belief’s rule out testimonial justice and reinforce a stereotype, which is then internalized by the subject. Thus the subject gets categorized in this injustice, and this further becomes the limitations with which the individual perceives themselves according to perceptions held by external agents. Examples of this behavior can include, female children being given the color pink, most stereotypes that are perpetuated are biased and create a culture of internalized behavior patterns that have their bases in bias. Thus affirmative action also becomes a reinforcement of these stereotypes, by making allowances for those who are not awarded preferential treatment. But does it really create a base for equal opportunity, rather than momentarily fulfilling areas that manifest inequality vocally.
Fricker conceptualizes social power as a social capacity to control another individual’s actions; this capacity can be exercised by social agents in passive or active forms that might also manifest itself in the structural. It is essential to understand the scope of social power in relation to an individual in order to draw an operational framework for bias. Social control is derived by a subject’s ability in a society; this in turn causes a rise or decline of social power. It is essential to understand the collectivity that engenders independent agencies. Law and legality does not represent society as a collective, but rather a collectivity of a particular cross section of society who have internalized stereotyped ethics. Thus norms that are an integral part of their social structure and ability, becomes a base representation for other sections of society that may not share this norm on ethics.
This raises a difficult question on epistemically just directions for an individual to respond towards internalized bias. Negative spaces of epistemic injustice should be drawn out to unearth a positive space for epistemic justice. Patterns of bias are often taken out of resources for collective consciousness. According to an individual’s ethical and social engendering since birth, the collectivity is often identified as an integral pool of truth and legitimacy. When this collective resource does not represent an individual, they are then pushed towards the periphery. This exile to the outside is done by external social agents acting on the individual, and also independently by the individual who has internalized patterns of collective meaning making. When the subject finds themselves not a part of the collective meaning making process, then the identity they possess lacks legitimacy and hence is often closeted. A good illustration of this can be seen in how homosexuality is perceived by social agents, who are invariably influenced by institutions such as the church and law. But this collective meaning making on homosexuality as lacking legality pushes identity formation towards a closet, and sexuality for them becomes an act of perversion.
Testimony is not given much credulity because the hearer is biased since their epistemic leanings come from the collective and is often attested by dominant social agents who influence social control. Prejudice causes an influx in credibility leading to unhealthy epistemic practices. On the other hand, internalized prejudice also produces dire epistemic consequences and can be categorized as epistemic injustice that might have risen through testimonial or hermeneutical structures. Bias on identity results in devaluation of credibility, but if the hearer identified with the subject in a positive plain, credibility towards any testimony that is borne results in an influx. Stereotypes are in a way essential for immediate identification, human beings are complex to identify with in a short span, and thus the mind is prone towards employing instant patterns of identification through stereotypes. The epistemic source for these stereotypes usually emanate from an individual’s past experience and the collective social resource. Fricker draws out the problem with stereotypes, as unwilling to change even when actual evidence is presented to suggest the contrary about an individual. These biases thus start to hold permanent meaning, making them independent social agents even though they are not animate as living beings. Certain social biases become a set rule, when they are passed down a group and in the long term this becomes a collective belief.
Stereotypes that have gained mobility and pervasiveness as to be shared by a collectivity become epistemic authority. An epistemically apt response towards bias would be to isolate markers of bias. When these elements are looked in isolation, the root of their birth can be charted out. This is an essential empirical experiment that has to be undertaken due to widening gaps of social, racial and economic inequality. A case can be drawn out in relation to migrants and the opportunities available to them. Fluency in English is seen as a marker of competence and education, but migrants who possess high qualification and skill levels are deemed to be lacking and given jobs according to that bias. Groups that are targeted by affirmative action have also internalized a prejudice. They perceive their identity from a third person’s perspective and find that their deficits require preferential treatment. This does not address the epistemic deficit that has caused the inequality in the first place.
Fricker’s account brings to light some of the negative consequences of internalizing epistemic injustice, but she does not analyse patterns of this internalization. A group that is prone towards bias on economic and social spheres tends to internalize accepted strands of collective norms in order to gain credibility. This in turn alienates them from their identity, and creates a structure of reverse bias where the subject of prejudice exercises bias on others in order to become a part of the collectivity. When they are objectified, it prevents them from becoming epistemic agents, because the subject becomes the object. Objects do not perceive, they become inanimate and transpire as receivers.
Fricker conceptualizes that Hermeneutic justice involves an analysis of those structures which are biased, this lends towards the widening scope of a hermeneutic collective. The debate on injustice is far too complex to apply Fricker’s ideal solution. She does not take into account, a subject’s conscious adherence to bias despite awareness that it constitutes to injustice. She fleshes out two paradigms for a subject that practices bias, that of a hearer who is not conscious of the prejudice, and an individual who reacts towards creating the stereotype from their collective social resource. There can also be a third paradigm, where the social agent is conscious of the prejudice they practice, but choses to further it.
An epistemically appropriate response cannot be highlighted in black and white because the debate is far more complex. In order to bring out apt patterns of epistemic responses, this paper would need to pull out case studies which would make it fall beyond the scope of philosophy. To moderate injustice, it is impossible to recommend solutions that are merely philosophical but the need to build hypothesis that allows for experiments and policy conclusions become essential. It is not merely an ethical dilemma, to perceive it this way would entail dwelling into the subject in abstraction.
Fricker, Miranda. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2007. Print.