Standpoint Moral Epistemology: The Epistemic Advantage Thesis

Philosophical Studies 181 (2023)
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One of standpoint theory’s main claims is the thesis of epistemic advantage, which holds that marginalized agents have epistemic advantages due to their social disadvantage as marginalized. The epistemic advantage thesis has been argued to be true with respect to knowledge about particular dominant ideologies like classism and sexism, as well as knowledge within fields as diverse as sociology and economics. However, it has yet to be analyzed with respect to ethics. This paper sets out to complete this task. Here, I argue that we have good reason to believe that the marginalized are epistemically advantaged with respect to moral knowledge overall, including moral facts other than those about the morally problematic features of systems of domination. To do so, I first articulate the connection between marginalization and the moral domain, drawing on the rich history of feminist and non-ideal ethics. Then, I argue that marginalized agents are more likely to have several particular epistemic skills that are necessary to come to have moral knowledge. Utilizing real-world cases where moral knowledge is at stake, I show how marginalized agents have better access to evidence (broadly), as well as advantages distinguishing between considerations that are morally relevant and those that aren’t (sorting), determining the weight a certain piece of evidence has with respect to determining a moral matter (significance), and using concepts which bear on moral questions (conceptual competency). I close by considering the upshots my analysis here has for other areas of moral epistemology like moral testimony and moral expertise.

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Nicole Dular
Notre Dame of Maryland University

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