Presenters and Abstracts


Dr. Tracy Isaacs –– University of Western Ontario
–– “The Part We Play: Social Group Categories as Roles”

This paper explores the nature of social group categories understood as roles. By social group categories I mean such classifications as gender, race, class, sexuality, etc., that we use to identify social groups. I understand roles as parts people play within and defined by a given collective context. Roles occupants have powers, obligations, and responsibilities qua role occupant. My question considering social group categories as roles enable us to deepen our ethical understanding of oppressive social and political contexts and what is morally required of us when we are living in such contexts? To the extent that roles help to define a range of powers,obligations, and responsibilities, they help us determine what we ought to do in a specific context. I argue that a role analysis of social group categories in oppressive social contexts can help people living within them to gain a more determinate understanding of their obligations with respect to the collective goal of eradicating injustice.I embed my discussion within a broader understanding of the ethical dimensions of collective contexts.If we extrapolate from specific social group categories and the roles they may suggest, we might be able to understand occupying social roles of privilege and occupying social roles of disadvantage as themselves social roles of a more general sort. When we do this, we may use roles as a mechanism for understanding what part variously situated agents can and more importantly should play in addressing structural and systemic social injustice.

Dr. D. C. Matthew –– York University

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Dr. Matthew is unfortunately no longer able to present. We at the RPGSU thank him for his sincere interest in participating at our conference.

Graduate Papers:

Jay Spencer Atkins –– Binghamton University
–– “Defining Wokeness”

Wokeness is an emerging concept in the philosophical literature on social epistemology and moral encroachment. Wokeness is a moral demand or an epistemic virtue that involves tailoring one’s beliefs according to the unjust features of one’s environment. I fail to be woke, for example, if I conclude that the man before me is dangerous merely because he is black. Even if I believe in accordance with the available evidence, I fail to be woke. To be woke often means believing in spite of the available evidence, which may be irrational. To counteract this implication, Atkins (forthcoming) and Basu (2019) argue that wokeness follows from moral encroachment. Moral encroachment is the view that epistemic norms bend to moral norms. When a belief’s moral stakes are high (such as the belief about the black man above), one would require more evidence for that belief or additional alternatives to that belief are be made relevant. Basu and Basu and Schroeder argue that moral encroachment follows from the fact that beliefs themselves can wrong others. Call this doxastic wronging. Many philosophers, however, deny moral encroachment and doxastic wronging; I call this conjunction of denial the standard view in epistemology. In this paper, I argue for an account of wokeness that is consistent with the standard view. That is, we can consistently deny moral encroachment and doxastic wronging and still be woke.

Alexandra Cunningham –– University of Calgary
–– “Reconciling Epistemic Paternalism and Epistemic Autonomy”

The debate in social epistemology surrounding epistemic paternalism brings forward questions about permissible interaction with other epistemic agents. Epistemic paternalism occurs through the non-consensual interference with the inquiry of another person, motivated by that person’s own epistemic good. Epistemic autonomy, by contrast, is owed to us as beings who possess the rational faculties to reach epistemic goods on our own. We are epistemically autonomous when we are free to conduct inquiry however we see fit. Here, I land on a definition of epistemic autonomy as respected self-sufficiency. These two concepts tell us that, by definition, epistemic paternalism threatens epistemic autonomy. Epistemic paternalism and epistemic autonomy each have evident utility, leaving us with a potential conflict of epistemic value. In this paper, I look to different attempts to sort out the relationship between epistemic autonomy and epistemic paternalism. I argue that these efforts have failed to capture the full value of epistemic autonomy. Instead, I will propose a new justificatory condition on epistemic paternalism that I suggest is compatible with an acknowledgement of the value of epistemic autonomy and helps to resolve the tension between these two phenomena. I will argue that there are certain contexts, specifically those involving epistemic impairment, in which we are not owed epistemic autonomy and so warrant epistemic paternalism.

Alice Damirjian –– Stockholm University
–– “Substituting Meanings for Fictions About the World’s Social and Ethical Structure: Revisiting Hom and May’s Theory of Slurs”

Bad words appear able to establish, affect and reinforce social relations between individuals and groups, and thus they play an important role in society. The derogatory force of slurs has therefore become an important topic within the philosophy of language in recent years, but not exclusively. The oppressive powers of certain terms in natural language is clearly not only a linguistic phenomenon of interest to philosophers of language, rather it is intimately linked to questions about communities, their structure and how oppression arises in such social groups. However, it is worth asking what slurs mean, because without an understanding of what role slurs play in complex sentence constructions it becomes difficult to say anything about what speakers do when they use slurs. This paper will therefore be devoted to the semantic role played by slurs, and explore an argument for regarding slurs as fictional words with empty extensions. The strongest proponents for such a view are Christopher Hom and Robert May (2013, 2018) with their Moral and Semantic Innocence (MSI) theory, which takes it as a priori true that slurs cannot share extensions with neutral counterparts, and that slurs in fact have no extension at all. I will begin by presenting MSI and attempt to defend it against some technical counterarguments, and I will argue that already existing solutions to such counterarguments in Hom and May’s articles have not been considered seriously. I will then move on to more compelling, less technical, arguments against MSI and argue that the view fails to explain several important aspects of how speakers use slurs, how slurs emerge, and slur appropriation.

Pablo Dopico –– King’s College
–– “The human way of being social: the Young Marx and Species-Being”

Marx’s concept of species-being has received much attention recently, both as a theoretical tool to rethink contemporary political and anthropological debates and as a key to grasp the Marxist notion of alienation. However, the diversity of usages that Marx gives to species-being, as well as the multiplicity of different contexts where the term occurs, has resulted in a variety of heterogeneous interpretations that call for a critical examination of the literature. Thus, in this paper I separate these interpretations into two categories: the essentialist views, which treat species-being as the ‘species-essence’, that is, the young Marx’s understanding of the human essence; and the embeddedness views, which read species-being as ‘species-creature’, the kind of being or creature humans are – and, to be precise, the kind of social creature humans are. I then argue that the essentialist interpretations of species-being, while roughly correct, cannot cover the full range of usages of species-being, and hence they need to be complemented with some form of embeddedness view. Nevertheless, I also show that the existing embeddedness interpretations are subject to important objections, and propose an alternative embeddedness reading. On this alternative, to be a social being for the young Marx is, primarily, to be a creature that understands the needs the other has as a human being and tries to satisfy them. Moreover, I defend that it is only thus that human beings get to realise themselves and come to be aware of their belonging to the human species as a whole. Likewise, it is in this way that, according to the young Marx, the true human community is forged.

Isaac Shur –– Georgia State University
–– “Problems of Parasocial Epistemology”

The goal of this paper is to bring some recent developments in social epistemology into conversation with the concept of parasocial relationships. In section one I explain what parasocial relationships are, and what general implications they have for social epistemology. I then proceed in the following sections to explain some central epistemological problems posed by parasocial relationships and their increasing commonality in contemporary society: In section two, I argue that parasocial relationships are prime sites for disagreement-reinforcement mechanisms, which are often epistemically harmful. In section three, I argue that parasocial relationships can undermine the value of expertise by obfuscating people’s actual epistemic relationships with one another. In section four I argue that despite the problems posed in this paper, parasocial relationships are value-neutral and thus contain potential to ameliorate the very problems they can cause.