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2017/18 Philosophy Speaker Series

"Astell on Bad Custom and Epistemic Injustice"

  • Allauren Forbes, Department of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania
  • Friday, Jan. 26, 2017, 3:30 p.m., DAWB 2-101 (Dr. Alvin Woods Building)
  • all are welcome


Mary Astell (1666-1731) identifies a persistent problem for women in her time: the evils of bad custom. Bad custom is many things – a disease, a barrier, and a set of norms and practices that serve to undermine women’s intellectual and moral capacities. In this paper, I argue that the phenomenon of bad custom is an institutional practice of gaslighting, a form of abuse whereby an agent undermines their target’s grasp on reality whilst maintaining the agent’s position of epistemic – and, one might think, political – authority. As an institutional practice, this is a form of epistemic injustice – a harm done to someone in their capacity as a knower – not yet categorized by contemporary philosophical literature. So, I argue that Astell not only recognizes bad custom as gaslighting but also that her discussion implies that she recognizes it as a kind of epistemic injustice.

To make my case, I first set out just what Astell means by bad custom. I then compare it to the psychological harm of gaslighting and demonstrate their similarities. I show how this constitutes an epistemic injustice, but not one that fits into the currently available schemas. I suggest that there is an important feminist upshot to this, and that this further illustrates the importance of philosophical recovery and discussion of historically overlooked figures such as Astell.

More Upcoming Speakers

Ben Winokur, York University

March 2, 2018, 3:30 p.m., DAWB 2-101

Blake Freier, University of Waterloo

April 6, 2018, 3:30 p.m., DAWB 2-101

Unknown Spif - $key