Testimonial Injustice and Trust — A PERITIA Special Issue

Should we simply trust what people or institutions say? Which values should be at play when assessing the words of others? Are experts or testifiers vulnerable against their own audiences? What if we wrongly discredit testimonies? Can we make sure that testimonies are accessible to vulnerable audiences? What strategies can help us to create testimonially just institutions? 

A new PERITIA Special Issue published in the International Journal of Philosophical Studies this December and edited by Melanie Altanian and Maria Baghramian explores these issues under the theme ‘Testimonial Injustice and Trust’. The publication brings together ten articles, among them the winners of the 2020 Robert Papazian and PERITIA prizes. 

Testimonial (in)justice in the relation of the speaker and the hearer 

Testimonial (in)justice is a crucial aspect of the way we understand trust in others and in institutions like science and politics. We depend on the words of others to understand the world and create our own beliefs. However, the relationship between the speaker and the hearer is not an easy one. For instance, speakers can deceive, lie, or be mistaken, while hearers may have their own prejudices against speakers or may not believe them without engaging with their testimony. Accordingly, testimony makes speakers vulnerable to flawed responses that deprive them of recognitional epistemic goods, thereby undermining them as knowers. 

Consequences for expert-driven institutions 

This interaction may also apply to expert-driven institutions such as scientific or political institutions. “When one cannot understand the inner workings of an institution, it becomes difficult to know how to comport oneself testimonially”, argue Havi Carel and Ian Kidd, winners of the PERITIA Prize. In their article ‘Institutional Opacity, Epistemic Vulnerability, and Institutional Testimonial Justice’, the authors argue that “trustworthiness, transparency, and truthfulness” are fundamental values for constituting an ‘institutional ethos’.  

Re-conceptualizations of testimonial (in)justice  

While the first four articles of this Special Issue propose re-conceptualizations of testimonial injustice and, respectively, testimonial justice, the following articles take a critical look at Fricker’s work, addressing the much-debated question of the reconcilability of (traditional) norms of epistemology with norms of justice. “Fricker’s central case of testimonial injustice concerns the distinct epistemic wrong in which a hearer attributes a deflated level of credibility to a speaker owing to a negative identity prejudice against the speaker”, explain the two editing authors in their introduction.  

Epistemic wrongs 

The next two papers enhance the conversation around epistemic and testimonial injustices by applying them to specific cases of epistemic wrongs, for instance when an audience may silence a group by “failing to correctly identify the group’s proper representatives”, or when “individual speakers are likely coerced to silence themselves when they become aware of being mistaken as speaking for the group”.  

PERITIA early career prize 

Finally, in ‘Our epistemic duties in scenarios of vaccine mistrust’, the PERITIA early career prize winning article, Giulia Tertian and M. Inés Corbalán build on recent work by Johnson (2018) and Lackey (2020) to critically assess our epistemic obligation to voice disagreement, focusing particularly on discourses of science denial and vaccine hesitancy. 


Read ‘Themes from Testimonial Injustice and Trust: Introduction to the Special Issue’ by Melanie Altanian and Maria Baghramian (full access limited to subscribers) 

Read the PERITIA Prize winning article ‘Institutional Opacity, Epistemic Vulnerability, and Institutional Testimonial Justice’ by Havi Carel and Ian Kidd.