Critical considerations during my studies

I have attended a fair share of philosophical seminars in my studies and consider it a core topic connected both to science and to digital environments. Normative and feminist social theory, as well as the theory of science and phenomenology, are all brought to me through seminar formats at university and made up a good part of my education there. I find it hard to properly demonstrate what interests me without presenting often long-winded and dull term papers. The courses I loved most also often had a format with a weekly hand-in, where students are asked to comment on the paper they just read to identify points to carry into next week’s discussion. I am incredibly thankful for this methodology of approaching complex philosophical works, often complete books with supplicant essays surrounding the course topic. In my opinion, nearly all of the value created during these seminars is contained within the live discussions fed by reading materials and little opinion pieces in the form of forum comments. That’s why I decided to share here a selection of these weekly commentaries and the sources they are based upon. They are often unrefined and informal, but they indicate the centerpiece of the seminars and demonstrate many thought processes that happened within me during these sessions. Although I took only a small selection, in sum they are a substantial read. Feel free to just skip through and read what catches your interest.

Forum entries from the Seminar: Critical Epistemologies

On Anderson: Institutions

Source Text: Epistemic Justice as a Virtue of Social Institutions Elizabeth Anderson (2012) Epistemic Justice as a Virtue of Social Institutions, Social Epistemology, 26:2, 163-173, DOI: 10.1080/02691728.2011.652211 Publication

The text by Anderson helped shed light on a few issues I stumbled over with Frickers Account. On top of the various issues I and seemingly others have with her virtue-based approach, I think a utilitarian angle is worth considering. That would be: okay, I accept that people can help fight injustice by realising their privilege, showing restraint, silencing themselves, and adopting the benevolent listening approach. I think that is a practical, virtuous, and realistic endeavour. But is it the effective path to alleviating structural injustice? I think not, and initially, that is a major reason I discarded Fricker’s approach, although I saw merit. I have similar concerns to Anderson in the scalability of virtues. Virtuous behavior might help my personal well-being, it gives me normative elevation and might even further the quality of relationships I have. But is it applicable to society, is it enough to counteract structural injustice? Well, maybe, assuming that:

  1. Everyone realizes their privilege,
  2. Everyone concludes that justice is the right goal,
  3. Upon deciding to adopt a virtuous stance, everyone at least moderately succeeds in practicing what they preach.

I think, for society, the same society that came up with patriarchy in the first place, external pressure, some measure independent of the convictedness of the subjects is needed. Anderson made the powerful point of: “Anything that works, goes”, which took me some time to appreciate. I am always angry when I get told to keep my shower to a minimum or stop using plastic straws when I know exactly that my using less water is nothing compared to the institutionalized practice of Coca-Cola putting water into bottles. I feel like it is unjustified to ask me to save water while others triple their output, for performance. The same thing applies to Epistemic injustices. It strikes me how much energy it costs to keep up virtuous behavior individually and how little effect there is to show for it. I do not believe in “trickling up” where institutions will eventually adopt individual practices. Is Fricker thereby less right in her point? No, it adds up, as an entire population showering shorter adds up to lots of water saved. Anderson also points out how locally innocent biases can create injustice on a “macro” scale. Another indicator for me is that local virtue is not the sole solution, as it can still feed and sustain a system enforcing epistemic injustice.

I still have doubts about what to do now with my ideas, on how the world looks that I want. I lack the imagination of seeing a world that is epistemically just, and it is hard to strive for something one cannot even imagine. The system is inherently leaning toward inequality, if I try to balance something on a needle, it will only go well so long, before small imbalances create chain reactions and the object should be called unstable. Should we even succeed in “resetting” society, creating equal participation for each subject, how will it remain just? Is Justice always a conjunct of Equality? Are there ways to achieve real Justice without needing equality?

created by Aron Petau on Tuesday 14. July 2020, 17:45

On Medina, the informant and the inquirer

Source Text: Dr. José Medina (2012) Hermeneutical Injustice and Polyphonic Contextualism: Social Silences and Shared Hermeneutical Responsibilities, Social Epistemology, 26:2, 201-220, DOI: 10.1080/02691728.2011.652214 Publication

My biggest takeaway here was that, as I tried to hint at in an earlier comment, Whenever we talk about justice, this necessarily refers to a relational concept, where everybody has a double role to ensure successful communication. Medina calls these the inquirer and the informant. So, every individual has to make sure to act to her capacity as an epistemologically sound knowledge-acquiring agent (the inquirer). This would involve knowing when and how to falsify/qualify statements, making inferences about the theory of mind, and generally comparing different statements. The other role is the informant, where the individual should have the capacity to function as an object in an inquiry by another. Very roughly this can, I think, be compared to any good communication model, where there are a listener and a speaker, and both have to function. What was new here, or at least came out more clear is that it not only depends on the capacity of both of these roles on the subject, but it is also directly dependent on the “other”, the agent opposite of the subject. We may call this other society later but it helps me to visualize the other as an individual nonetheless. Where the analogy to communication now fails, in my opinion, is this cross-dependence, where an agent does not fully determine her capacity to act both as an inquirer and as an informant, it is co-determined by the “other”. So, if I, as an “other”, listen to someone’s statements, and I fail or refuse to understand the epistemic content of the message, I am not only impairing my epistemic agency, but I also hurt the epistemic agency of the subject. Maybe obvious to most, but this thought struck me as being exactly the point of leverage for dysfunctionalities in power relations. Also argued convincingly in the paper was that these are distinct and independent agencies, which can be impairing an individual separately. Overall, the Medina text was incredibly helpful after the somewhat confusing Fricker text that felt incomplete and left a lot of questions for me. The medina text picked up all my initial doubts, that I couldn’t properly formulate, and many more, while still holding to the general framework of Fricker. Although I was not convinced by the Fricker Text, I tend to think the strategy:

“When in doubt, give the subject full epistemic credibility”

Is a good strategy that might alleviate a lot of issues regarding functions of power, and hierarchy, but also further, it might be a good counter for things as our confirmation bias, expectation bias and many individual errors that we could minimize by constantly exposing ourselves to falsifiability through others (voluntarily). Sounds like science applied to agency to me.

created by Aron Petau on Thursday 09. July 2020, 11:25

On Jaggar: Norms, Outlaw Emotions, and the Ideal Society.

Source Text: Alison M. Jaggar (1989) Love and knowledge: Emotion in feminist epistemology, Inquiry, 32:2, 151-176, DOI: 10.1080/00201748908602185 Publication

I found Jaggar to be a very wholesome read, it was the perfect amount of grounded argumentative structure and felt very connected as a whole. This was, together with the ideas from Lugones the best and most fruitful paper for me. On outlaw emotions: First, I hate the term, I think it’s placative and fails to frame the (actually nice) idea behind it. Outlaw Emotions are all those emotions incompatible with the dominant norms. That’s a huge field to cover, among feminist emotions they would also encompass emotions that are irrational or “faulty”. So, Jaggar does the term Justice by saying, some, but not all Outlaw Emotions are Feminist emotions. To make this evident, just think of a murderer’s joy for killing, it is of no feminist interest to dissect, yet it is against dominant values. So, experiencing Outlaw emotions is a (probably) necessary, but not sufficient condition for feminism. The incompatible emotion serves to create discourse and change. Jaggar convincingly shows how emotions have a direct influence on beliefs and can validly constitute evidence, while simultaneously validly influencing values in a similar manner. When we talk about dominant/alternative norms, we already endorse hierarchy in society. We acknowledge its existence, simply by identifying the dominant norm. I am not quite sure what exactly Jaggar proposes we should do with the hierarchy structures in society. Explicitly I can read: Subcultures rejecting dominant norms should be formed, to create counterbalances and a somewhat fair discourse over the topic. “How can we determine which outlaw emotions are to be endorsed or encouraged and which rejected? In what sense can we say that some emotional responses are more appropriate than others? What reason is there for supposing that certain alternative perceptions of the world, perceptions informed by outlaw emotions, are to be preferred to perceptions informed by conventional emotions? Here I can indicate only the general direction of an answer, whose full elaboration must await another occasion. I suggest that emotions are appropriate if they are characteristic of a society in which all Human Life (and perhaps some nonhuman life, too) thrive, or if they are conducive to establishing such a society.” To me this passage sounds sketchy at best, there is no indication of how to successfully separate appropriate from inappropriate emotions. Roughly, I read this part as: emotions are warranted iff they increase the balance of power. (equivalent to minimizing the height of the hierarchy) I would love to get to read this “other occasion” because it seems indefensible to me to formulate a norm that states: Accept only emotions which eliminate/diminish norms. The idea roughly resembles Rawls’s Minimax Principle, where a policy should be implemented iff the benefit for the most disadvantaged is highest. Another thing I found helpful is her reformulation of what norms do: “Dominant Norms tend to serve dominant interests” til here nothing new, this is a tautology for me, I understand norms as identical to dominant interests, that’s literally what norms are. Is an alternative, suppressed norm even thinkable? Isn’t it inherent in a norm that it be the dominant one? But then, after that: “Whatever our color / gender / class / sexual orientation, we are likely to adopt the dominant value of racist, classist, homophobe, misogynistic white men.” This was rather helpful to me, as it reframes the “act” of oppression as the “likelihood of value distribution” being skewed in your favor, making everybody’s values more likely to be similar to yours. This nicely illustrates how a system can be hierarchical and oppressive, without anybody actively, intentionally “acting oppressive”, while still perpetuating oppression. I’m not saying everybody is acting unintentionally oppressive, but it is always hard to imagine for me to picture “White Men” forming a group and collectively deciding on who to hate this coming season, Conceptually separating “being oppressed” and “oppressing” into phenomena without necessary inherent causal relation makes sense to me here.

created by Aron Petau on Tuesday 23. June 2020, 18:52

Forum entries from the Seminar: Critical Philosophy of Subjectivity 1: Michel Foucault

On Butler: Constituting norms =/= carrying normative responsibilities for their existence

Source Text: Butler, J. (2004). Undoing Gender (1st ed.). Routledge. Publication

Citation from Butler, Page 51, citing Ewald, which is, in turn, interpreting Foucault:

The norm integrates anything which might attempt to go beyond it—nothing, nobody, whatever difference it might display, can ever claim to be exterior, or claim to possess an otherness which would actually make it other” (Norms, Discipline, and the Law, P.173)

Such a view suggests that any opposition to the norm is already contained within the norm, and is crucial to its functioning.

Here, for me, the entire futility of the approach later identified and described is condensed into a few sentences.

Hence, regulations that seek merely to curb certain specified activities (sexual harassment, welfare fraud, sexual speech) perform another activity that, for the most part, remains unmarked: the production of the parameters of personhood, that is, making persons according to abstract norms that at once condition and exceed the lives they make—and break. Page 56, final sentence

The idea that it is impossible to legislatively regulate norms without propelling, propagating, and carving them out deeper resonates with me, but at the same time, it has left me undecided on how to proceed. I understand the first citation to clearly be Ewald’s interpretation of things and am not sure whether Foucault’s careful circumvention of the term “Norms” is related to anticipation of this argument.

Further, I am not sure I share Ewald’s interpretation; I see that the object “othered” by a norm is a constituent and necessary object for the norm, simply due to its “comparative” nature (p. 51, citation from Ewald). The oppressed may well be as constituting of norms as the privileged, but this does not translate to a normative responsibility nor a pang of guilt in my opinion. The dangerous argument that the oppressed bear responsibility for their situation is too close for my taste. I would like to emphasize a clear cut between constituting and reinforcing a norm and thriving on it. Yes, maybe that is a good location to make the cut: The normative and ethical pressure, or better, the guilt of complicity lies with the ones thriving BECAUSE of a norm and clearly not with those thriving DESPITE OF a norm. I would think that Butler makes a similar argument elsewhere, but as such, I was missing it here, resulting in a very bleak and hopeless situation where any struggle to change the status quo through legislation is doomed and inevitably propagates and reinvents stable unfair relations of power.

created by Aron Petau on Sunday 23. January 2022, 14:23

On Ewald: What, then, is a norm?

Source Text: François Ewald; Norms, Discipline, and the Law. Representations 1 April 1990; 30 138–161. doi: Publication

Some tiny details about norms that stuck out to me about the norm were that: 1: they are fictional and thus, an object conforming to a norm is not more meaningful than an object not conforming to a norm. 2: the entire given set comprises the norm, the deviations play a defining role in the formation of the norm itself (or an average). p. 152: Under norm, 3 phenomena are subsumed: Discipline, less as a constraint, but more as a regulatory mechanism insurance, Reducing objects to their relative occurrence, distributing risk. and standardization. The norm has three defining features:

  • positivism, as reliant on facts, which have an aura of objectivity around them.
  • relativity, they are neither absolute nor universal, they have a scope, both in definition as a certain temporal extension.
  • polarity involving a classification between the normal and the abnormal, where the abnormal is to be some handicap, not attaining something that the normal does attain.

What, then, is a norm?

It is a way for a group to provide itself with a common denominator in accordance with a rigorous principle of self-referentiality, with no recourse to any kind of external reference point, either in the form of an idea or an object. The normative process can obey a variety of different logics: the panoptical logic of discipline, the probabilistic schema of insurance, or the communicative logic of the technical norm. These three logics have the same form: in each case, the rule which serves as a norm, by virtue of which everyone can measure, evaluate, and identify himself or herself, will be derived from those for whom it will serve as a standard. A strange logic, this, which forces the group to turn back in upon itself and which, from the moment it establishes itself, will let no one escape its purview. p. 154

created by Aron Petau on Sunday 16. January 2022, 18:48

On Foucault: The effects without effector

Source Text: Michael Foucault. Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings 1972–1977. Pantheon, New York, 1980. Publication

one finds all sorts of support mechanisms […] which invent, modify and re-adjust, according to the circumstances of the moment and the place- so that you get a coherent, rational strategy, but one for which it is no longer possible to identify a person who conceived it. p. 203

In this passage, and the one following it, I think Foucault pinpoints as one of the central attributes of the apparatus (or dispositif) the arbitrariness of the order of power relations. There is no identity having to undergo some sort of inventive process to start off a collective change, a “strategy” just happens to meet the criteria for deployment.

But between the strategy which fixes, reproduces, multiplies and accentuates existing relations of forces, and the class which thereby finds itself in a ruling position, there is a reciprocal relation of production. Thus one can say that the strategy of moralising the working class is that of the bourgeoisie. One can even say that it’s the strategy which allows the bourgeois class to be the bourgeois class and to exercise its domination. But what I don’t think one can say is that it’s the bourgeois class on the level of its ideology or its economic project which, as a sort of at once real and fictive subject, invented and forcibly imposed this strategy on the working class.

This was for me the most powerful grasp of what an apparatus is. A complicated removal of the effector from the effect. I struggle to continue to find any substance to the relations of the classes. Does reciprocal mean anything more than both are constitutive of each other? One produces the means of reproduction of the other, but where exactly can I apply moral judgements? This whole ordeal and now I lack subjects to blame. How can this theory possibly bring about change in society? Is that even its goal? Do we undergo this analysis in order to make society better in the end?

created by Aron Petau on Sunday 12. December 2021, 22:01

Forum entries from the Seminar: Is political violence justifiable? Reading Judith Butler and Elsa Dorlin

On Dorlin

Source Text: Dorlin, Elsa. Se défendre: une philosophie de la violence. Zones, 2017. Publication (Not yet translated to English)

From the seventh chapter in Dorlins “Self-Defense”, I found the idea that safe spaces are actually prone to be counterproductive very strong. I think the discussion around whether safe spaces are an effective tool that is appropriate on top is a rather current and ongoing one. In so many other words, Dorlin here opens up the idea that the creation of a safe space always implies a hostile “outside” or other space. Further, Dorling sees as problematic that safe spaces will often experience problematic situations when trying to self-govern. The line of thought here is that safe spaces often explicitly reject the authority of traditional state bodies, since those exactly are identified as the oppressive force. This is problematic because then the community inside the safe space has to recreate social norms from scratch and qua definition of a safe space end up being much more restrictive and monitoring, tapping also into potentially extreme measurements for “enforcing” safety. Dorlin notes that by doing this, societal oppressive norms can end up becoming reproduced through the very instance created to shelter from it. I think this opens up 2 points worth discussing: Are there limits to the self-governance of leftist groups? How can self-governance be made possible without recreating some hierarchy or other? Does this ignore that safe spaces can sometimes be essential for survival? According to Dorlin, the alternative seems to be to instead of building sheltered, isolated safe spaces, the fight has to occur in the public, transforming the entire space without the necessity for exclusive logic. How can we argue this? Could there be an oppressed position from whence any aggressive stance towards the public forbids itself? (I think there is!) For me this seems like putting the entire burden of transformational potential on the oppressed individual, enabling a position like: “Well, the person did not object or introduce change, so the person implied consent.” Will a public fight cause more harm being fought than it will save after introducing change? And who are we to calculate this beforehand?

created by Aron Petau on Sunday 05. December 2021, 15:52

Weekly hand in from the Seminar: Soziale Erkenntnistheorie

On Fricker: Epistemic Injustice

Source Text: Fricker, Miranda. Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford University Press, 2007. Publication

  1. Worin unterscheiden sich inferentialistische von nicht-inferentialistischen Theorien der testimonialen Erkenntnis (d.h. des Wissens durch das Zeugniss andere)?

Inferentialistische Theorien gehen davon aus, dass die eigentliche Inferenz, also die Generierung eines neuen Epistems im Subjekt stattfindet. Konkret heisst dass, dass Ich die Aussage P einer dritten Person erst in irgendeiner Weise vor mir selbst rechtfertigen muss, bevor ich sie selbst verwenden kann. Ist die Aussage nun 2 + 2 = 4, muss ich also mit allen mir zur Verfügung stehenden Mitteln selbst überprüfen, ob diese Aussage Wahrheits- und Kohärenzkriterien erfüllt. Ich muss also beispielsweise über darunterliegende Axiome, die mir bekannt sind, die Aussage extern (ausserhalb von Person X hat das gesagt, also kann Ich das glauben) überprüfen. Im simplen Beispiel also konkret das Ergebnis berechnen. Wenn man so will, liegt also immer die “Beweislast” für meine eigenen Episteme bei mir und ich kann diesen Beweisaufwand nur begrenzt auslagern. Eine sehr direkte Folge davon wäre, dass jeglicher Erkenntnisgewinn mit erheblicher, bewusster oder unbewusster Arbeit verbunden ist. Dies wäre die wahrscheinlich logisch stringentere Theorie, gegen sie spricht aber die Phänomenologie eines Erkenntisgewinns. Eine Erkenntnis kommt uns oft vor wie ein “Heureka” Moment, wir “finden” sie, plötzlich ist sie da und wir können mit ihr arbeiten. Eine nicht-inferentialistische Theorie legt ebendiese Beweislast nicht im Subjekt an, ich habe eine Erlaubnis, oder besser, ein Recht auf a-priori Annahme der Richtigkeit der Aussage. “Person X hat mir P gesagt, also kann ich P verwenden” ist nun valide und bedarf erstmal keiner weiteren Überprüfung auf Richtigkeit. Diese Argumentationslinie ist deutlich kompatibler mit der phänomenologischen Erfahrung einer Erkenntnis vim Alltag. Wir stoßen aber auf deutlich größere Probleme, wenn wir uns fragen, woher eigentlich unser Recht auf Wahrheitsannahme von Drittaussagen kommt. Klar, 2+2=4, weil der Prof das an die Tafel geschrieben hat, ist die “schlechtere” Begründung als zu sagen, dass das Ergebnis aus gewissen mathematischen Axiomen deduziert wurde.

  1. Formulieren Sie jeweils einen Einwand gegen beide Theorien.

Wir befinden uns also nun in der Spannung der phänomenalistischen “Heureka” Erfahrung des Findens von Epistemen (in nicht-inferentiellen Systemen) und dem Problem der schwachen Justifizierung von Aussagen gegenüber der erhöhten Stringenz eines epistemischen Systems, dass externe (logische, probabilistische, normative etc.) Gründe für Aussagen zur Verfügung stellt, aber einen schier unüberwindbaren rechnerischen Aufwand darstellt. Auch das Problem der ersten Begründung bleibt bestehen. Angenommen, ich weiß noch nichts, habe bisher null Episteme gesammelt, wie wird das erste Epistem, das ich finde, begründbar sein?

  1. Worin besteht doxastische Verantwortung (doxastic responsibility) nach F und Ihrer eigenen Meinung nach.

Doxastische Verantwortung ist die Verantwortung für die Begründbarkeit des eigenen Nezwerkes aus Epistemen. Wenn mich also jemand fragt: Warum glaubst du das?, ist es sozial im Allgemeinen erwartbar, dass ich darauf eine Antwort liefern kann. Und wie wir eben schon am Beispiel der Begründung für 2+2=4 gesehen haben, scheint es hier “bessere” und weniger gute Gründe zu geben, das heisst, eine Person kann zur Verantwortung gezogen werden, unzureichend begründete Episteme fallen zu lassen und eine gewisse Grenze zu ziehen, eine mindest erwartbare Begründung. Diese kann sehr wahrscheinlich nicht universell formuliert werden. Eine Regel wie: Alle Bürger dürfen nur noch Aussagen weiterverwenden, denen sie eine mindestens 90-prozentige Wahrheitswarscheinlichkeit attestieren, ist aus diversen Gründen problematisch. Frickers Auffassung Doxastischer Verantwortung ist insofern speziell, als dass sie eine deutliche Verbindung moralischer Verantwortung (die wir offensichtlich alle in irgendeiner Form tragen) und Doxastischer Verantwortung sieht. Sogar die Gründe sind oft überlappend. Eine Gute Moralische Begründung, die zum Beispiel der Wahrhaftigkeit, scheint ganz offensichtlich auch eine gute doxastische begründung zu sein. Diese Parallelität zieht Fricker heran, um neo-aristotelianische Moralbegründuungen auch auf epistemischer Ebene wirksam zu machen. Ich lasse mich da gern Überzeugen von Ihr und erache es als sinnvoll Doxastische Verantwortung in gewisser Weise moralisch bindend zu machen. Intuitiv wissen wir ja auch, dass unsere Erwartung, dass dritte wahrhaftig mit uns interagieren, auf Gegenseitigkeit beruht und das leben nicht nur normativ, sondern auch auf epistemischer Ebene “verbessert”. Dies liefert auch eine recht simplistesche Rechtfertigung, annehmen zu können, dass Dritte mir die Wahreit sagen. Ich tue ja auch immer mein Bestes, warum also die anderen nicht?

created by Aron Petau on 05.01.2021