Group 8: Feminist Philosophy and Perspectives from Social Epistemology
Friday 11th of December 2020
Naomi Beecroft, University of Wollongong
‘The Biased Mind, Cognitivism, and Liberal Feminism: Tracing the Problems with Implicit Bias Theorising’
Theorising around implicit bias – the notion that people can think and act in oppressive ways without conscious awareness of doing so – is dominated by what Ayala (2016) calls The Biased Mind approach. Implicit biases, the biased mind account goes, are patterns of injustice situated within individual minds, with the tacit assumption that it is the moral responsibility of these individual minds to solve (Ayala 2016). This paper traces the dominance of The Biased Mind to problematic, individualistic frameworks in a) philosophy of mind and cognition, and b) feminist philosophy.
First, I argue that implicit bias theorising’s problematic foundations in philosophy of mind and cognition are due to the dominance of cognitivism as a framework for understanding mindedness. The cognitivist account states cognition is a brain-bound process of transforming sensory data into contentful representations, which are manipulated and then acted upon. This is what Hurley (1998) calls The Sandwich Model; cognition is the filling, sandwiched between perception and action. The central tenets of the cognitivist account are a) internalism (the belief that minds are skin and/or skull bound, Clark and Chalmers 1998) and b) representationalism (the belief that cognition is the manipulation of contentful symbols, Fodor 1975).
Second, I show that The Biased Mind account of bias naturally falls out of liberal feminism’s core demand for women’s freedom of choice. This demand for choice, though seemingly agreeable, has met staunch criticism from feminists across the political spectrum, most notably from the Marxist feminist tradition. The objection states that liberal feminism, with its emphasis on choice, neglects a robust analysis of power relations, and as such reifies the autonomy and choices of some women at the expense of others more marginalised in complex systems of domination and subordination (e.g. Young 2006). This failure to properly understand and account for these complex power relations has created a watered-down concept of implicit bias, creating a million-dollar bias mitigation industry aimed at the betterment of white, western, professional women.
Having demonstrated the shaky ground implicit bias theorising is built upon, I provide the beginnings of an anti-cognitivist account of implicit bias, backed by materialist feminist methods and aims. The field of E-cognition (embodied, extended, enactive, embedded and ecological cognition) offers alternatives to the individualistic conception of cognition. For the E-cognition theorist, cognition is a diachronic, interactive, socially embedded process that involves no clearly designated lines between perception, cognition, and action. Accepting an E-cognitive account of bias leads us to reject the idea that bias is locked away in the skull of an offender, or that it remains the sole responsibility of that offender.
Given arguments against cognitivism and liberal feminism and their individualistic nature, I urge for the development of an anti-cognitivist metaphysics of implicit bias, backed by a commitment to a materialist, collectivist feminist methodology.
Matthew J. Cull, University of Sheffield
‘Engineering is not a Luxury: Black Feminists and Logical Positivists on Ameliorative Inquiry for Political Change’
Recently, analytic philosophy has returned to the topic of conceptual engineering - put roughly, the study of what our concepts ought to be, and how to decide on which concepts to adopt. In this paper I want to read two very different traditions in tandem on the topic of conceptual engineering: black feminism and logical positivism. I will suggest that reading the traditions in this way reveals a number of affinities, and that a model for conceptual engineering grounded in community activism emerges from both traditions.
I will begin by dispelling some myths about the logical positivists, suggesting that there are good biographical and philosophical reasons to think them committed to many of same emancipatory projects as the black feminists I will discuss. I will then take a look at the particular models of conceptual engineering (or in their terms ‘explication’) offered by Rudolf Carnap and Otto Neurath. Whilst Carnap’s engineering perhaps seems a little narrow in its goals, and overly systematic for use in advancing political change, I will suggest that Neurath’s additions to Carnap’s work provide a model of conceptual engineering based on communities that is well-suited to seeking change in the light of those communities’ political goals.
Turning to the black feminists, and following Sara Ahmed’s work on ‘sweaty concepts’, I develop the idea that Audre Lorde’s notion of ‘poetry’ can be read as a conceptual engineering project, aimed largely at individual emancipation. I then suggest that the model of conceptual engineering provided by Patricia Hill Collins shows an even closer fit between black feminist and logical positivist thought, developing concepts that meet the needs of particular communities of black women in particular contexts. Indeed, I will suggest that the projects described by Neurath and Collins are virtually identical.
Whilst this might just be thought to be of merely historical note, I will end by suggesting how such a way of doing conceptual engineering might, and indeed has, been implemented for political change. I will look in particular at the ways in which online trans communities are developing new gender concepts to suit their particular needs and goals. I suggest that such a practice is entirely in line with the Collins/Neurath line on conceptual engineering, though that trans people might also gain much from engaging with the work of Lorde.
Taylor Matthews, University of Nottingham
‘Epistemic Vice, Institutional Corruption, and the Home Office’
In March 2020, the Windrush Scandal in the UK culminated in the publication of an independent report, which sought to explain why British-Caribbean citizens had been wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation, and wrongfully deported by the UK Home Office. The Windrush Lessons Learned Review (Williams, 2020) explicitly described the Home Office as demonstrating institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards issues of race and the history of the Windrush generation (2020: 7). Institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness are candidate institutional epistemic vices. That’s to say, they prevent collective or institutional agents from gaining knowledge and reflect badly on these bodies. How do institutions such as the Home Office come to possess collective epistemic vices? In this talk, I draw on an emerging concept within vice epistemology called epistemic corruption to answer this question. Epistemic corruption occurs when one’s epistemic character comes to be damaged due to the subject’s interaction with persons, conditions or structures that facilitate the development and exercise of epistemic vices (Kidd, 2020; 2019). Using Kidd’s account as a template, I argue for what I call institutional epistemic corruption.
To flesh this out, I briefly introduce Kidd’s account epistemic corruption and isolate two key features: first, epistemic corruption requires an epistemic character to be damaged; second, this character damage corresponds to gaining bad epistemic motivations or losing good epistemic values. From here, I draw on Miranda Fricker and Margaret Gilbert’s work on joint commitment and plural subjecthood to explain how institutions can reasonably be said to possess epistemic motivations, and through this, be virtuous or vicious. With a motivational component to hand, I illustrate how collective agents might also possess an epistemic ‘character’ by drawing on Fricker’s Gilbertian-inspired account of ‘institutional ethos’ (2020).
With the requisite parts acquired, I explain how an account of institutional epistemic corruption might help vice epistemologists approach and diagnose institutional epistemic vices. According to my account, an institution becomes vicious in two ways. First, institutional epistemic corruption can occur passively when an institution is unable to develop or cultivate a good epistemic ethos because members of the institution’s joint commitment hinder the development, or tolerate the loss, of good epistemic values. Alternatively, institutional epistemic corruption is active when an institution adopts a bad epistemic ethos. This occurs when an institutional joint commitment collectively encourages the exercise of bad epistemic values.
I conclude by applying this model of institutional epistemic corruption to the case of the UK Home Office and its vices of institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness. Either the Home Office suffered passive institutional epistemic corruption because those party to its joint commitment (civil servants, ministers etc.) tolerated or normalised policies and measures, which detracted from, or eroded, any epistemic ethos of intellectual rigour, diligence and sensitivity. Alternatively, the Home Office suffered active institutional epistemic corruption because members of its joint commitment (officials, ministers etc.) encouraged the exercise of intellectually insensitive, careless, and lazy attitudes towards issues of race and immigration.