Objects or others? Epistemic agency and the primary harm of testimonial injustice

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This paper re-examines the debate between those who, with Miranda Fricker, diagnose the primary, non-contingent harm of testimonial injustice as a kind of epistemic objectification and those who contend it is better thought of as a kind of epistemic othering. Defenders of the othering account of the primary harm have often argued for it by presenting cases of testimonial injustice in which the testifier’s epistemic agency is affirmed rather than denied, even while their credibility is unjustly impugned. In previous work, I have instead argued that such cases suggest that we need to enrich our conception of epistemic objectification in ways encouraged by Martha Nussbaum’s cluster analysis of objectification. Here I continue to make the case for this approach, and I consider the othering account in more detail. I focus in particular on Gaile Pohlhaus Jr.’s arguments for a version of the othering account in terms of the notion of derivatization, which turns on the idea that only such an account can enable us to properly understand the harms of testimonial injustice, in particular the ways in which it interferes with a subject’s epistemic agency and autonomy, and I’ll argue that such arguments should not sway us. Finally, I’ll further support my contention that it is illuminating and helpful to think of the primary harm of testimonial injustice in terms of epistemic objectification, though I will concede that the notion of epistemic othering may offer further helpful resources for understanding how subjects can be harmed by testimonial injustice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEthical Theory and Moral Practice
Early online date14 Mar 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Mar 2020


  • testimonial injustice
  • epistemic agency
  • gaslighting
  • objectification
  • othering


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