Why They Know Not What They Do: A Social Constructionist Approach to the Explanatory Problem of False Consciousness

Journal of Social Ontology 7 (1):45-72 (2021)
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False consciousness requires a general explanation for why, and how, oppressed individuals believe propositions against, as opposed to aligned with, their own well-being in virtue of their oppressed status. This involves four explanatory desiderata: belief acquisition, content prevalence, limitation, and systematicity. A social constructionist approach satisfies these by understanding the concept of false consciousness as regulating social research rather than as determining the exact mechanisms for all instances: the concept attunes us to a complex of mechanisms conducing oppressed individuals to mistake social understandings of themselves as natural self-understandings—the limits lie where these overlap (sometimes), or are entirely absent.


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