Illness Narratives and Epistemic Injustice: Toward Extended Empathic Knowledge

In Karyn Lai (ed.), Knowers and Knowledge in East-West Philosophy: Epistemology Extended. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 111-138 (2022)
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Abstract

Socially extended knowledge has recently received much attention in mainstream epistemology. Knowledge here is not to be understood as wholly realised within a single individual who manipulates artefacts or tools but as collaboratively realised across plural agents. Because of its focus on the interpersonal dimension, socially extended epistemology appears to be a promising approach for investigating the deeply social nature of epistemic practices. I believe, however, that this line of inquiry could be made more fruitful if it is connected with the critical notion of epistemic responsibility, as developed in feminist responsibilism. According to feminist responsibilists, at the core of epistemic responsibility is a critical disposition toward correcting epistemic injustice. This epistemic idea is highly relevant to the epistemological context of illness, where patient testimony is often disregarded. Hence, though restricted to the epistemological context of the experience of illness, this chapter delves into epistemic injustice and its robust mechanisms. I thus explore what responsible epistemic practices should involve in order to redress that injustice and how epistemic responsibility should be socially extended. The discussion proceeds as follows. First, by relying on Arthur Frank’s innovative work on illness narratives, I focus on chaotic bodily messages from patients overwhelmed by suffering and then explain why these messages should count as genuine narratives or testimonies despite their inarticulateness. Second, I elaborate on how epistemic injustice concerning such narratives (i.e., chaos narratives) is produced and reproduced, in particular how both a dominant sociocultural norm and our inherent vulnerability can contribute to its production and reproduction. Finally, I propose an extended form of epistemic responsibility that ameliorates this aspect. Laying particular emphasis on the epistemic role of mature empathy, I characterise the extended epistemic responsibility in terms of extended empathic knowledge.

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Seisuke Hayakawa
University of Tokyo

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