Epistemic Diversity and Epistemic Advantage: A Comparison of Two Causal Theories in Feminist Epistemology

Hypatia 39 (1):97-117 (2024)
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Feminist epistemology aims to propose epistemic reasons for increasing the representation of women or socially subordinated people in science. This is typically done—albeit often only implicitly—by positing a causal mechanism through which the representation of sociodemographic minorities exerts a positive effect on scientific advancement. Two types of causal theories can be identified. The “epistemic diversity thesis” presents a causal path from sociodemographic diversity to scientific progress mediated by epistemic diversity. The “thesis of epistemic advantage” proposes a causal path from social subjugation to capacity for inquiry. The latter theory is defined with substantial ambiguity in the existing literature, and I present an explicit causal reformulation that disambiguates it. The epistemic diversity thesis focuses on the effect of group composition on collective epistemic performance and is largely silent about what kind of characteristics lead to individual epistemic excellence. On the other hand, the thesis of epistemic advantage seeks to identify sociodemographic background conditions that make certain epistemic agents strictly better knowers or inquirers than others and pays little attention to the synergistic effects of diverse group composition. Such a difference in the causal structure reflects the diverging political characteristics of the two theories.

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Tay Jeong
Kangwon National University


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