WPES: Allan Hazlett, Philosophy

“The Epistemological Apology for White Supremacism"

Discussant: Cameron Evans, Philosophy

Abstract: Consider the familiar idea that white supremacist attitudes in the contemporary United States can be explained by appeal to the fake news, internet conspiracy theories, Russian propaganda, social media echo chambers, domestic political misinformation and propaganda, or biased and unreliable news media.  And consider the equally familiar idea that this explanation is exculpatory, i.e. that it shows that those who hold white supremacist attitudes are not blameworthy for holding said attitudes.  This is a paradigm example of what I will call an epistemological apology for white supremacism, one that appeals to intellectual factors, such as a person’s possession of misleading evidence or their intellectual vices.  I do two things in the paper.  First, I argue that we have little reason to think that white supremacist attitudes are caused by such intellectual factors, as opposed to that such intellectual factors are caused by white supremacist attitudes. Second, inspired by Bernard Williams’s discussion of proleptic blame, I argue that someone can be blameworthy for jing – in the sense that it can be appropriate to blame them for jing – even when they are not responsible for jing, and that such proleptic blame is a plausible response to white supremacist attitudes, even if the explanation above, in terms of fake news, etc., is true.  These two arguments call into question certain familiar anti-racist rhetorical and political strategies.”