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Epistemic Emancipation: Essays on Learning about Injustice



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Keller, Paula 


This thesis is about a specific kind of emancipation: epistemic emancipation. If emancipation generally is a process of setting oneself or others free from restrictions, then epistemic emancipation is a process of setting oneself or others free from restrictions of an epistemic kind: restrictions that keep one from knowing. I am specifically interested in epistemic restrictions that are due to unjust or oppressive social structures. Many of these restrictions will keep one from knowing about their very causes: about unjust or oppressive social structures themselves.

Radical political philosophy and feminist epistemology have extensively analysed how patriarchal, racist, and other social structures constrain us in what we perceive, how we reason, whom we deem credible, or what we believe. These constraints typically mask themselves and the injustices that produce them. But epistemic emancipation from such constraints must be possible. Were it not, it would be very mysterious how radical political philosophy and feminist epistemology have been able to do their analysis.

So how is epistemic emancipation possible? How can we learn about existing injustices? These are the questions of this thesis. And they are neglected questions in a literature that has focused on the negative: on highlighting the manifold instances of epistemic unfreedom. I turn to the positive: to the cracks in the wall of epistemic unfreedom. These cracks present opportunities for epistemic emancipation and enable us to learn about injustice. I examine three cracks in particular: making first-personal experiences that are unaccounted for by common interpretive resources, deciphering a metaphor about unjust social circumstances, and imagining better social alternatives. These are cracks through which we can look to understand and eventually to combat injustice.





Langton, Rae
Munton, Jessie


feminist epistemology


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes