In the following I am going to explain why I think that considering education as a legitimate marker of credibility, as Andersson suggests, is problematic, at least in a global context and along the lines of color and culture. Based on that I will further argue that spreading education in order to make credibility more accessible to everyone is not necessarily a solution to epistemic injustice.
Fricker argues that in our societies there is a problem of testimonial injustice. What she means by that, is that some people are given inadequate credibility based on prejudices towards the social group they are placed in. While some people are given more credibility than they are due, others are given less. The former she calls credibility excess, whereas the latter is called credibility deficit. These credibility judgments can be based on people’s gender, skin color, nationality, class background, etc., and how your own identity relates to these groups. She calls this an identity-prejudicial credibility deficit (Fricker, 2007, p.17). This means that some people, who are not given credibility, based on their social identity are disqualified as knowers. In a globalized world and diverse societies with a multitude of social groups and identities, this is problematic in many ways. First of all, it is hurtful to be disqualified as a person that holds knowledge. Secondly, however, testimonial injustice can translate into other serious injustices, for example when in courtrooms some groups are granted less credibility than they are due e.g., women in case of sexual harassment. Moreover, it is generally disadvantageous to attribute less (or more) credibility to someone than that person is due when one is in search of the truth. (ibid, p.19 & p.91).
To tackle this problem Fricker suggests that people should internalize a testimonial virtue, meaning that everyone should internalize to reflect on their own credibility judgments and ask themselves if they are not believing someone because of prejudices towards the social identity of the speaker on how their own identity relates to that that group (ibid, pp. 91-92).
Anderson, however, argues that this individual approach to tackling epistemic injustice, which follows from disregarding certain social groups as knowers, is ineffective in practice and therefore not enough. Her main argument is that prejudices are natural and our judgment is automized. Often, we, therefore, do not know when we are judging based on prejudices and therefore cannot reflect on and change that behavior (Anderson, 2012, pp. 197-168). She further states that given the structural causes of epistemic injustice; the remedies must be equally structural (ibid, p.167). She identifies certain ‘markers of credibility’ of which some are legitimate in her opinion and which some groups are denied access. One of these legitimate markers of credibility is education, at least in contexts where expertise based on a certain education is necessary (ibid, p. 169).
In the following, I will explain why I find the perception of education as a legitimate marker of credibility problematic, especially in a globalized world.
First of all, I do of course agree, that all people should have access to especially higher education, not least to diversify the production of knowledge. Moreover, it is of course also important to see, for example, more women or people of color in certain occupations in order to create a different image of their abilities and skills.
However, the mistake Anderson makes in my opinion is first of all to identify education as some kind of objective, value-free marker of credibility. This is however not necessarily the case, but a highly ethnocentric, Western belief, which is arguably highly related to meritocracy. There are for example cultures in which age and life experience play an important role and give people a lot of credibility and authority, arguably more so than a younger person’s educational attainment (Olugbemiro, 1997, p.9). Moreover, there can be expertise without formal education in many contexts, which we sometimes tend to forget in our highly bureaucratized science-oriented societies. So, if we consider epistemic or testimonial injustice in a global context, education as a legitimate marker of credibility becomes discriminatory of other people’s values and knowledge and therefore problematic. This ignorance towards her own cultural beliefs is especially problematic when she herself argues in the next abstract that ethnocentrism and shared reality are important factors in the creation of structural epistemic injustice.
I, moreover, think that conceptualizing education as a legitimate marker of credibility, even only in those contexts where expertise is necessary, opens the doors to testimonial injustice towards the lower educated, who hold a lot of significant knowledge and experiences.
She stresses in her text the importance of a shared reality that comes about through frequent interaction with one another. White Western people and especially white Western men have however managed, through exclusion and testimonial injustice based on prejudices, that a lot of (Western scientific) knowledge, is based on their assumptions and experiences. And it is precisely this knowledge that is largely still taught in educational systems (all around the world). Moreover, science in itself is a cultural phenomenon (Olugbemiro, 1997, p.1)
In addition to that, teachers, in increasingly diverse Western countries are also still mostly white. 79% percent of the teachers in the U.S. are white, while only 47% of the students are. 27% of students are Hispanic, 15% are black, and 5% are Asian (Schaeffer, 2021).
This creates a certain imbalance between those who supposedly hold the knowledge and those that are taught. Because whose knowledge, the facts of whose shared reality, are primarily being taught? Whose answers are the majority of teachers going to favor? Whose answers can they relate to and perceive as, right?
If I understand Anderson correctly, she wants that this imbalance is abolished through the increasing access of disadvantaged social groups to the educational system. And of course, in the long term, this might create more epistemic justice through the participation of diverse groups in knowledge production. However, she seems to ignore that education is in itself already a medium of epistemic injustice. When marginalized groups enter an educational system that is dominated by the beliefs of the dominant social group, their beliefs and their knowledge is altered to the knowledge of that dominant group.
A historical, perhaps extreme example of that is putting indigenous children into boarding schools where they were taught to behave and think according to Western standards, forced to leave their own culture, knowledge, and language behind. This happened all around the world and arguably still happens through development aid programs aimed at education.
Saying, that only through education, social groups will become more credible, especially in a global context, is, therefore, a bit like saying “they need to adjust their knowledge to ours, in order to become knowers.”, which is epistemic injustice in itself and not its remedy.
Especially in educational contexts, testimonial virtue should be practiced. And especially as a white person it is not that difficult to identify in interaction with whom prejudices are at play, and how they may affect our credibility judgments because historically constructed white supremacy makes (almost all) white people look down on basically every other social group along the lines of color and culture. So at least testimonial virtue in relation to color and ethnicity should not be too difficult to practice for white people.
Moreover, Anderson, states that the use of correct grammar is a signifier of higher education, which is not necessarily the case. What about migrants, for example, who were educated in another country and whose first language is not English or whatever the native language in a given country? Their use of grammar might be unrelated to their educational background and expertise.
I, therefore, conclude that Anderson’s approach to increasing credibility through educational access is ignorant of the epistemic injustice produced in and through educational systems and therefore a faulty solution. Testimonial virtue should at least be tried to be practiced. When we think about testimonial injustice in relation to color and culture, I think, fighting white and Western supremacy and ignorance is the change that is needed, rather than lifting up people’s credibility through education. Listening to what people have to say, regardless of their identity and their educational background is therefore in my opinion an important aspect to create epistemic justice. Testimonial virtue as Fricker suggests could be an important aspect of this change.
Anderson, E. (2012). Epistemic Justice as a Virtue of Social Institutions. Social Epistemology, 26(2), p.167-172.
Fricker, M. (2007). The Central Case of Testimonial Injustice. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing, p.17-29.
Olugbemiro, J.J. (1997). School science and the development of scientific culture: a review of contemporary science education in Africa. International Journal of Science Education, 19(1), p.1-20. DOI: 10.1080/0950069970190101
Schaeffer, K. (2021). America’s public school teachers are far less racially and ethnically diverse than their students. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/12/10/americas-public-school-teachers-are-far-less-racially-and-ethnically-diverse-than-their-students/