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Hermeneutical Injustice and the Problem of Authority


Miranda Fricker (2008) identifies a wrong she calls ‘hermeneutical injustice’. A culture’s hermeneutical resources are the shared meanings its members use to understand their experience, and communicate this understanding to others. Cultures tend to be composed of different social groups that are organised hierarchically. As a consequence of these uneven power relations, the culture’s shared meanings often reflect the lives of its more powerful members, and fail to properly capture the experiences of the less powerful. This may result in members of less powerful groups being harmed. Such disadvantage constitutes, for Fricker, hermeneutical injustice. In this paper, I discuss a problem for Fricker, which arises when we consider what is required to remedy a hermeneutical wrong. Fricker characterizes hermeneutical injustice as involving a lack of concepts, on the part of the disadvantaged group, to capture some important aspect of their experience. But what has not been properly appreciated in the literature to date, is that it is really competing views of the world that are at stake. Moreover, Fricker’s account seemingly implies that the disadvantaged group’s understanding of the world (or at least that bit of it, where their understanding is contested by the dominant group, and where that difference in interpretation is harmful to the disadvantaged group – what I will call ‘the target of the injustice’) should be treated as authoritative, and taken up by the wider culture. The worry is that in some cases, the disadvantaged group’s view of the world is not one that we think should be accepted. Having presented this problem, I will then show that it bears some similarities to another debate: the dispute over feminist critiques of alien cultural practices. I will then argue that lessons drawn from the latter can help overcome the problem of authority in Fricker’s case.

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