At the Cost of Solidarity – Or, Why Social Justice Needs Hermeneutics

Analecta Hermeneutica 13:73-95 (2021)


This essay addresses a stream of thought manifested in some forms of social justice activism – namely, that members of marginalized groups have privileged insight into the nature of social reality which others cannot understand, much less critique. This position, which I call “epistemic isolationism,” seems to rest on the claim that the knowledge that is embedded in lived experience is incommunicable. The essay proceeds in three parts: first, there is a brief overview of standpoint epistemology, including a recent version which seems to support epistemic isolationism. Second, there is an explication of the concept of “lived experience” as developed by Wilhelm Dilthey. Third, there is an argument against the claim that lived experience is incommunicable, drawing from the work of Dilthey, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Paul Ricoeur. The payoff of the argument is that sharing lived experience through expressions like literature and narrative inspires mutual recognition and respect which can, in turn, support a robust form of solidarity and serve as a foundation for more effective social justice advocacy.

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Patrick J. Casey
Holy Family University

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