Does False Consciousness Necessarily Preclude Moral Blameworthiness?: The Refusal of the Women Anti-Suffragists

Hypatia 36 (2):237–258 (2021)
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Abstract
Social philosophers often invoke the concept of false consciousness in their analyses, referring to a set of evidence-resistant, ignorant attitudes held by otherwise sound epistemic agents, systematically occurring in virtue of, and motivating them to perpetuate, structural oppression. But there is a worry that appealing to the notion in questions of responsibility for the harm suffered by members of oppressed groups is victim-blaming. Individuals under false consciousness allegedly systematically fail the relevant rationality and epistemic conditions due to structural distortions of reasoning or knowledge practices, undermining their status as responsible moral agents. But attending to the constitutive mechanisms and heterogeneity of false consciousness allows us to see how having it does not eo ipso render someone an inappropriate target of blame. I focus here on the 1889 anti-suffragist manifesto β€œAn Appeal Against Female Suffrage,” arguing that its signatories, despite false consciousness, satisfy both conditions for ordinary blameworthiness. I consider three prominent signatories, observing that the irrationality characterisation is unsustainable beyond group-level diagnoses, and that their capacity to respond appropriately to reasons was not compromised. Following recent work on epistemic injustice, I also argue that culpable mechanisms constituted their false consciousness, rendering them blameworthy for the Appeal.
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2021
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First archival date: 2020-07-20
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