A question about standpoints and understanding

Standpoint theory in epistemology provides a gateway for my question: For our purposes, the theory can be something vague like, “Human beings often have perspectives that make some truths access to them, while the truths are not accessible to those without the perspectives.” For example, one might want to claim that there are truths accessible from the point of view of a gay person which are not accessible to others.

I was struck today by the fact that the vague principle above implies something we might find very troubling; namely, human beings typically lack perspectives that make some truths accessible to others. E.g., over some wide area, heterosexuals lack the perspective from which they might understand gay experience.

By way of background, let me say I have been thinking recently especially about conversations I had with Robert McClelland when we worked on the 2013 APA Central Division Meeting. He arranged a number of sessions on African American experience and thought. I learned a great deal from him in the short time we could talk, but I was also left with an abiding sense that too much experience that was a matter of course for him was nearly beyond my understanding. For example, the role of sports in the formation of young black boys’ ambitions was something of which I had only the most superficial of understandings.

I’ve been wondering how to understand and change my ignorance here. But right now I’m also wondering why I missed the fairly staggering implications of standpoint theory? Perhaps I didn’t really, and am simply seeing things mistakenly as if they were new. My sense right now is that there’s a pretty big chasm between many of the beliefs I employ in everyday life and those of people of color, of different ethnicities, etc.

I’d love to hear or see what others think about understanding others. It would be very easy to work one’s self into a quite skeptical mood here. There’s been some discussion in a number of places (e.g., new apps) of epistemic equals. We could see this point as a worry about how even to understand the implications of a fairly frequent lack of epistemic equality.

TT Opening at Western Michigan University

We don’t ordinarily post job listings, but since seeking an AOS in feminism or philosophy of race or philosophy of gender is both rare and of special interests to our readers, we thought we’d pass this one along:

WESTERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY, Kalamazoo, MI. WMU seeks applications for a tenure-track appointment in the Department of Philosophy with a start date of Fall 2014.  AOS: feminism and/or philosophy of race/gender. AOC: open. The successful candidate will have a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion. He/she will teach a graduate seminar in his or her area of expertise; undergraduate courses might include Race and Gender and Political Philosophy. WMU’s Department of Philosophy (www.wmich.edu/philosophy) is broadly analytic in focus, with an undergraduate major and a highly regarded M.A. program.  The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has placed WMU among the 76 public institutions in the nation designated as research universities with high research activity.  Western Michigan University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer consistent with applicable federal and state law. Applications must go to http://www.wmich.edu/hr/careers-at-wmu.html, posting #0602616. Online applications should include a letter of application, curriculum vitae, writing sample and, if available, teaching evaluations.  Transcripts and three letters of recommendation should be sent directly to: Tenure-Track Search, c/o Tonja Iocca,  Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5328.  If either transcripts or letters are sent electronically they should be sent to tonja.iocca [at] wmich.edu. Questions can also be directed to that email address, or by phone to (269) 387-4390.  Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled.