"Just the Facts": Thick Concepts and Hermeneutical Misfit

Philosophical Quarterly (TBA) (forthcoming)
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Oppressive ideology regularly misrepresents features of structural injustice as normal or appropriate. Resisting such injustice therefore requires critical examination of the evaluative judgments encoded in shared concepts. In this paper, I diagnose a mechanism of ideological misevaluation, which I call "hermeneutical misfit." Hermeneutical misfit occurs when thick concepts, or concepts which both describe and evaluate, mobilize ideologically warped evaluative judgments which do not fit the facts (e.g. "slutty"). These ill-fitted thick concepts in turn are regularly deployed as if they merely describe--a phenomenon I call "descriptive masquerade." I argue that, via descriptive masquerade, ill-fitted thick concepts smuggle in warped evaluative judgments alongside apparently value-neutral ‘mere facts’, a process which both reinforces those judgments and increases the difficulty of critique. I investigate the concept "obesity" as an example: scientists and medical practitioners will deploy this concept as if it "merely" describes, enabling the smuggling of a host of warped evaluative judgments. I suggest that, to resist this process, we should develop collective consciousness and articulate "meta-hermeneutical resources," or thick concepts which encode critique of other, ill-fitted concepts (e.g. "slut-shaming" or "fat-shaming").

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Rowan Bell
University of Guelph

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Love and knowledge: Emotion in feminist epistemology.Alison M. Jaggar - 1989 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 32 (2):151 – 176.
Speech acts and unspeakable acts.Rae Langton - 1993 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 22 (4):293-330.

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