Gaslighting, Confabulation, and Epistemic Innocence

Topoi 39 (1):229-241 (2020)
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Abstract

Recent literature on epistemic innocence develops the idea that a defective cognitive process may nevertheless merit special consideration insofar as it confers an epistemic benefit that would not otherwise be available. For example, confabulation may be epistemically innocent when it makes a subject more likely to form future true beliefs or helps her maintain a coherent self-concept. I consider the role of confabulation in typical cases of interpersonal gaslighting, and argue that confabulation will not be epistemically innocent in such cases even if it does preserve a coherent self-concept or belief-set for the subject. Analyzing the role of confabulation in gaslighting illustrates its role in on-going interpersonal relationships, and augments already growing evidence that confabulation may be quite widespread. The role of confabulation in gaslighting shows that whether confabulation confers epistemic benefits will depend greatly on the interpersonal context in which it is deployed, while whether a coherent self-concept is epistemically beneficial will depend to a great extent on the content of that self-concept. This shows that the notion of an epistemically harmful or beneficial feature of a cognitive process can and should be further clarified, and that doing so has both theoretical and practical advantages in understanding epistemic innocence itself.

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Andrew Spear
Grand Valley State University