Epistemology: its social relevance / Erkenntnistheorie: ihre gesellschaftliche Relevanz

Workshop und Podiumsdiskussion
UZH, Raum RAA-E-30, Rämistrasse 59.
12:00 - 19:00

Epistemology: its social relevance

We offer several talks on socially relevant questions at the intersection of epistemology and ethics, a blooming field in philosophy. Did you ever wonder if there is any sense in which Putin can be said to be rational? Does a believer in conspiracy theories really exercise their critical thinking? How should we understand the #BelieveWomen? Do we need to behave virtuously to gain understanding? These are all questions we aim to discuss with you at this occasion. To close this conference series, you are invited to attend a panel discussion with experts on Miranda Fricker’s concept of epistemic injustice. To give you a first glimpse into this topic, imagine that a jury rejects a woman’s testimony because they believe that women are irrational. The woman suffers testimonial injustice: her testimony is deemed to be less credible out of prejudice. Or think of the following. Before the concept of ‘sexual harassment’ was coined in the 1970’s, a woman sexually harassed lacks the conceptual resources to make sense of her experience and to communicate it. This is a famous case of hermeneutical injustice. The panel discussion aims at conveying a better understanding of these specific forms of discrimination – in which sense are these cases of injustice? What is distinctively epistemic about it? – as well as exploring further avenues – how can we prevent epistemic injustice? Is there anything wrong about giving to someone too much credibility? Is genocide denialism a case of epistemic injustice? ​We will pursue these and other questions together with the renowned expert Prof. Veli Mitova from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa who specializes in this area, as well as other invited research experts.


Erkenntnistheorie: ihre gesellschaftliche Relevanz

Wir bieten verschiedene Vorträge zu gesellschaftlich relevanten Themen am Schnittpunkt von Erkenntnistheorie und Ethik, ein blühendes Forschungsfeld in der Philosophie. Haben Sie sich gefragt ob Putin noch in irgendeinem Sinne rational ist? Hat ein Verschwörungstheoretiker die Fähigkeit zu kritischem Denken? Wie sollen wir #BelieveWomen verstehen? Müssen wir tugendhaft sein um zu echtem Verstehen zu gelangen? Wir wollen mit Ihnen über diese Fragen diskutieren. Zum Abschluss der Vortragsreihe laden wir Sie zu einer Podiumsdiskussion zu Miranda Frickers Begriff des Epistemischen Unrechts ('epistemic injustice') ein. Stellen Sie sich vor, eine Jury lehnt das Zeugnis einer Frau ab, weil die Jury glaubt, die Frau sei irrational. Der Frau wird hier testimoniales Unrecht angetan: ihr Zeugnis wird aufgrund eines Vorurteils als weniger glaubwürdig angesehen. Oder denken Sie daran, dass der Begriff der sexuellen Belästigung erst in den 70er Jahren geprägt wurde. Vor dieser Zeit fehlten Frauen die begrifflichen Ressourcen, um ihre Erfahrung sexueller Belästigung zu formulieren und zu kommunizieren. Dies ist ein bekannter Fall hermeneutischen Unrechts. Die Podiumsdiskussion zielt auf ein besseres Verständnis dieser speziellen Formen der Diskriminierung -- in welchem Sinne sind dies Fälle von Unrecht? Was ist daran spezifisch epistemisch? Wie können wir epistemisches Unrecht verhindern? Ist auch etwas falsch daran, jemandem zu viel Glaubwürdigkeit zuzuschreiben? Ist das Leugnen von Genoziden ein epistemisches Unrecht? Wir werden diese Fragen zusammen mit der renommierten Expertin Prof. Veli Mitova von der Universität Johannesburg in Südafrika erkunden, die auf dieses Feld spezialisiert ist, sowie mit weiteren eingeladenen Expertinnen.



Universität Zürich, Raum RAA-E-30, Rämistrasse 59, 8044 Zürich.

May 14 2022


I. Belief, Understanding and Rationality

/1/ Conspiracy theories: what to believe?

Melanie Sarzano & Glenn Anderau



/2/ The #BelieveWomen and the ethics of belief

Léna Mudry



/3/ « Verstehst du das?» - Über wissenschaftliches Verstehen und tugendhaftes Handeln

Alexander Belak



/4/ Is there any sense Putin can be said rational?

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II. Epistemic Injustice

The vicious cycle of epistemic injustice

Veli Mitova (Johannesburg)



Panel discussion on epistemic injustice

Melanie Altanian (Dublin), Nadja El Kassar (Berlin) & Glenn Anderau (Zürich)


The vicious cycle of epistemic injustice

Veli Mitova

African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science

University of Johannesburg



Suppose you witness a crime, you testify at the trial, and the jury disregard your testimony because they think that women are too emotional to make reliable eyewitnesses. This is a classic case of what Miranda Fricker has called ‘epistemic injustice’—a wrong done to you in your capacity as a knower, due to prejudice against your gender, race, or other aspects of your social identity. In this talk, I discuss several varieties of this kind of injustice, and show how they can viciously reinforce each other in situations like the above. I argue that the main cause of this vicious cycle is an illegitimate assumption of epistemic authority­ (the authority to say what counts as knowledge, who is a good witness, etc.). I then suggest what we can do—at both the personal and institutional levels­—to stop the vicious cycle of epistemic injustice.




Veli is Professor in Philosophy and Director of the African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, at the University of Johannesburg. She is also the South African team leader for The Geography of Philosophy Project, and a PI for the Epistemic Injustice, Reasons, and Agency project funded by a Newton Advanced Fellowship. Veli works at the intersection of epistemology, ethics, and social epistemology. At the moment, her focus is on epistemic injustice, decolonising knowledge, and the ways in which phenomena such as white ignorance should make us rethink central normative-epistemology concepts like epistemic risk, blame, and responsibility. She is the author of Believable Evidence (CUP 2017), and the editor of Epistemic Decolonisation (2020) and of The Factive Turn in Epistemology (CUP 2018). Before joining the University of Johannesburg in 2015, Veli taught and researched at Universität Wien, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México, Rhodes University (her alma mater), and Cambridge (where she obtained her PhD).




Veli Mitova’s keynote talk and the panel discussion on epistemic injustice are preceded by four talks on belief, understanding and rationality. You find below the relevant abstracts. / Dem Vortrag von Veli Mitova und der Podiumsdiskussion über epistemische Ungerechtigkeit gehen mehrere Vorträge über Überzeugung, Verstehen und Rationalität voraus. Nachstehend finden Sie die entsprechenden Zusammenfassungen.


/1/ Conspiracy theories: what to believe?

For some, to believe in conspiracy theories is to be irrational and naive. For those who believe in conspiracy theories however, the opposite is true: to believe in conspiracy theories is to be epistemically independent, and exercise critical thinking. This is but one of the many oppositions that occur in relation to the question of what to believe about conspiracy theories. Taking the example of the “satanic panic” - the moral panic of satanic ritualistic abuse occurring within our societies - as a main example, we will explore the many epistemic considerations regarding trust and testimony that often arise in the context of conspiracy theories. 

Melanie Sarzano & Glenn Anderau


/2/ The #BelieveWomen and the Ethics of Belief

Most of the time we believe what other people tell us. I believe that it will rain tomorrow because the weatherman said it will. I believe that you are home because you told me so. And in the absence of any reason to be suspicious, it is perfectly alright to take your word for it. Interestingly, the same does not apply to victim’s testimonies. Social media illustrate a common pattern in testimony about sexual assault and harassment. A woman accuses a man of misconduct, he denies it. A third party urges the importance of the presumption of innocence: we should not condemn the accused in the absence of evidence. In the face of the denial of women's testimonies, the #BelieveWomen was created. But the same reaction loomed again. What does it mean? Does it require that we believe women without question? Or is it rather meant to draw our attention to the way in which women are always under-trusted? In this talk, we will explore together different interpretations of the #BelieveWomen. We will consider two distinct questions related to the epistemology and ethics of testimonies. When does testimony provide us with enough justification to believe what someone told us? What do owe to each other when we testify?

Léna Mudry


/3/ «Verstehst Du das?» - Über wissenschaftliches Verstehen und tugendhaftes Handeln.

In der Wissenschaft streben wir nach einem tiefgreifenden und umfassenden Verständnis der Phänomene unserer Welt. Es genügt uns häufig nicht, bloß zu wissen, was Klimawandel ist - wir wollen verstehen, wie er zustande kommt, was er für Auswirkungen hat, und wie man ihn verhindern kann. Doch was braucht es eigentlich, damit wir etwas verstehen?

In diesem Vortrag werden wir uns genauer mit dem Wesen des Verstehens auseinandersetzen, seine Bedingungen untersuchen und insbesondere einen Blick auf ethische Aspekte des Verstehens werfen: Was tue ich eigentlich, wenn ich verstehe? Das heißt: Ist Verstehen eine Handlung? Und falls ja: Was für eine Handlung? Und sollte Verstehen in der Tat eine Handlung sein, kann ich sie dann auch gut oder schlecht ausführen? Anders ausgedrückt: Muss ich tugendhaft sein, um erfolgreich verstehen zu können?

Dabei unternehmen wir eine Reise durch zeitgenössische und klassische Debatten der Philosophie und machen uns mit zentralen Begriffen wie etwa WissenGrasping und Know-How vertraut.

Alexander Belak


/4/ Is there any sense in which Putin can be said rational?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is on our minds. One debate that seems to be particularly heated in this context is about whether there is a sense in which Putin can be said to be rational. Some very smart people and experts seem to endorse radically opposite answers to this question. The aim of the present talk is to take a bit of a theoretical distance and to consider this question from the point of view of epistemology and decision theory. We will apply some of the distinctions and theoretical tools that philosophers and decision theorists have elaborated with the hope that our purely theoretical approach in philosophy can also provide some insights for this very actual and much discussed topic.

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