"calm down dear": intellectual arrogance, silencing and ignorance
In this paper I provide an account of two forms of intellectual arrogance which cause the epistemic practices of conversational turn-taking and assertion to malfunction. I detail some of the ethical and epistemic harms generated by intellectual arrogance, and explain its role in fostering the intellectual vices of timidity and servility in other agents. Finally, I show that arrogance produces ignorance by silencing others (both preventing them from speaking and causing their assertions to misfire) and by fostering self-delusion in the arrogant themselves.
Alessandra Tanesini is Professor of Philosophy at Cardiff University. She is the author of An Introduction to Feminist Epistemologies (Blackwell, 1999), of Wittgenstein: A Feminist Interpretation (Polity, 2004), and of several articles in feminist philosophy, the philosophy of mind and language, epistemology and on Nietzsche. She is a member of the Society of Women in Philosophy (UK). Her current work lies at the intersection of ethics and epistemology.
“arrogance, silence and silencing"
Alessandra Tanesini’s insightful paper (2016) explores the moral and epistemic harms of arrogance, particularly in conversation. Of special interest to her is the phenomenon of arrogance-induced silencing, whereby one speaker’s arrogance either prevents another from speaking altogether or else undermines her capacity to produce certain speech acts such as assertions (Langton 1993, 2009). I am broadly sympathetic to many of Tanesini’s claims about the harms associated with this sort of silencing. In this paper I propose to address what I see as a lacuna in her account. I believe (and will argue) that the arrogant speaker can put those he silences in the morally outrageous position in which their own silence contributes to their oppression. While nothing in Tanesini’s account would predict or explain this, the wrinkle I propose will aim to do so in a way that is in the spirit of her account. To do so, I will need to expand the focus of discussion: instead of concentrating on (arrogance-induced) silencing, I will consider the phenomenon of (arrogance-induced) silence. When one is silent in the face of a mutually observed assertion (whatever the cause of this silence), one’s silence will be interpreted by others. I argue that (1) under certain widespread conditions, a hearer’s silence in the face of the arrogant speaker’s assertions is likely to be falsely interpreted as indicating her assent to the assertion, and (2) such an interpretation of the hearer’s silence will bring new harms in its wake—in particular, harms to the hearer who was silenced, and also harms to the community at large. When we combine these new harms with the ones Tanesini identified in her paper, we reach the further conclusion that (3) the harms of silencing (whether arrogance-induced or otherwise) are potentially far worse than many have imagined.
Sandy Goldberg is Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Northwestern University, and from 2012-2015 he was Professorial Fellow at Eidyn and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He works in the areas of epistemology and the philosophy of language, with a special focus on topics at the intersection of these areas as well as topics in social epistemology. He is author of Anti-Individualism (CUP, 2007), Relying on Others (OUP, 2010), and Assertion (OUP, 2015), and he recently completed a book manuscript tentatively entitled To the Best of our Knowledge.
8 - 10 July 2016
School of English, Communication and Philosophy
John Percival Building
Cardiff CF10 3EU
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