A formal treatment of epistemic injustice
The research project "A formal treatment of epistemic injustice" was funded by the POLONEZ BIS 2 competition, co-financed by the European Commission and the National Science Center under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND grant.
Project title: A formal treatment of epistemic injustice
Duration: April 1, 2023 - March 31, 2025
Principal investigator: dr Christop Merdes (email@example.com)
Mentor: dr hab. Tomasz Żuradzki, prof. UJ
Popularization descriptionEpistemic injustice denotes a variety of phenomena where an epistemic agent is wronged as a knower. Most
prominently, these are testimonial and hermeneutic injustice. The former ocurrs in testimonial interactions when a
hearer misjudges a speakers credibility without exculpatory circumstances. The latter describes situations where the
collective interpretive resources of a community are insufficient to make sense of certain experiences of a social group within the community.
The goal of this project is to enhance understanding and make more precise the analysis of epistemic injustice by means of formal modeling. This is done both to create a general toolbox for formally treating scenarios of potential epistemic injustice and to answer several specific questions. The project is split into three interconntected subprojects:
(1) Credibility excess. Epistemic injustice is commonly associated with deflated credibility judgment, and Miranda
Fricker, the most influential theorist of the matter, has argued that excess credibility does not constitute epistemic
injustice the same way deflated judgments do. The project will capture triadic testimonial situations where it there
seems to be symmetry between deflated and excess credibility. A Bayesian model of the testimonial situation will make more precise the situation and help answer the normative question by explicating the presuppositions of various ansers.
(2) Explicating hermeneutic injustice. While the basic idea of hermeneutic injustice is clear enough, there is actually
much to be explored when it comes to the details. This project will focus on the issue of missing concepts that are,
however, in some proto-form existing. To describe and analyze such circumstances, the project will exploe the utility of the framework of imprecise probabilities, which allows for an interval-valued representation of uncertainty. If this
modeling approach successfully captures the hermeneutic insufficiency of a conceptual system, it can, due to an existing formal framework, be seamlessly integrated with the account of testimonial injustice from (1), as there are Bayesian updating rules for imprecise probabilities.
(3) Self-justifying epistemic injustice. It is well known that stereotypes, which are often the source of inappropriate
credibility jdugments, can be self-reinforing. This happens through the expectations of the stereotyped agents. In the
framework of epistemic injustice, once agents have adopted the stereotype, the deflated credibility seems to be well-founded; but that seems to be obviously ethically objectionable. To analyse these types of scenarios and investigate the breakdown of justification, the project will develop a game-theoretic model of testimonial exchange, in which the self-fulfilling prophecy of stereotypes with respect to credibility can be properly represented. This will suggest solutions to the described issue of seemingly justified injustice and also offer insiht into the prevention or disruption of such dynamics.
These problems, though seemingly abstract philosophical issues, relate closely to a number of practical, ethico-epistemological applications. Most obviously, certain scenarios of legal testimony and the relationship between medical experts and their lay audiences, be they their clients or the general public.
Imagine a scenario of competing testimony in the courtroom: It is quite obvious how the problem of excess credibility
applies: When it comes to the ultimate judgment of the hearer (judge or jury), it seems to make no difference whether
they discount one witness's testimony or inflate the other's. In either case, they end up with a judgment closer to the
latter's testimony, and, given the inadequacy of the credibility assignment, thereby commit epistemic injustice.
For a very brief example from the field of medical experts, if a group is stereotypically assumed to exaggerate their
symptoms, say, pain, physicians may as a consequence undertreat them; but that is likely to trigger the exact dynamic described under (3): Once the patients from that social group adapt to the physicians' judgments, those very judgments reflect accurately the behavior of the stereotyped group. Members of that group may exaggerate their symptoms to receive adequate treatment, but in the process confirm and reinforce the stereotype.
To put it succinctly, the project aims to introduce tools that have been proven useful in formal epistemolgy to the ethics of belief.
This research is part of the project No. 2021/43/P/HS1/02247 co-funded by the National Science Centre and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 945339.