Kipnis and epistemology

I continue to be deeply impressed by the work that Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa is doing on Laura Kipnis’s book.  There’s so much that’s important in this post, on the epistemological moves and assumptions that Kipnis makes.  Here’s one small sample.

When she starts talking about specific cases, Kipnis brings in more explicit epistemological assumptions. In a passage spanning pp. 66–71, Kipnis questions the methods of Joan Slavin, a Northwestern University Title IX officer who investigated allegations that Professor Peter Ludlow had gotten an undergraduate student (“Cho” is her pseudonym) drunk, pressured her to come to his apartment, and groped her. Kipnis goes over competing descriptions of several elements of the night, expressing disagreement with Slavin’s judgments of Cho’s credibility. E.g.:

For instance, according to Slavin, Ludlow told Cho that he thought she was attractive, “discussed his desire to have a romantic and sexual relationship” with her, and shared sexual information, all of which was unwelcome to her.

I’m dying to know how Slavin came to the conclusion that Ludlow wanted to have a romantic relationship with Cho. Because an evening spent drinking and going to galleries indicates a man’s desire for a relationship? If so, single women of America, your problems are over. (71)

Kipnis wonders how Slavin came to the conclusion that Ludlow said he wanted to have a romantic relationship with Cho? The obvious answer is: Cho told her. Kipnis often reaches for strange explanations for simple conclusions when she disagrees with them. Here, Slavin listened to Cho tell her that Ludlow said he wanted to have a relationship with her, and concluded that Ludlow probably told Cho that he wanted to have a relationship with her. Kipnis hypothesizes that Slavin is employing the implicit premise that an evening spent drinking and going to galleries indicates a man’s desire for a romantic relationship. This is the kind of premise one might need if young women’s testimony carries no epistemic significance. But if we don’t assume that, there’s no need to reach for such bizarrities.

I find myself thinking that the literature on epistemic injustice will soon be filled with Kipnis examples.


To read the whole post (and you should), go here.

One thought on “Kipnis and epistemology

  1. For the last couple of years, I taught a class, “introduction to legal studies”, which was a sort of forced march through the basics of the US legal system for undergraduates at the Wharton School of Business at Penn. Imagine much of the first year of law school crammed into one class in one semester. When I’d teach about torts or contracts, a reoccurring question students would have was, “but how would you _prove_ that?”, when the dispute was one where there might not be straight-forward impersonal evidence. I would always be puzzled by this, at first not really understanding the question. After a while, I’d try to draw answers out of them. They were consistently hesitant to think that _testimony_ could be sufficient evidence for a legal claim, if there was not a significant amount of “impersonal” evidence. (*) This was quite a surprise to me, but it happened over and over, on topics of many different sorts. What moral to draw from this isn’t completely clear to me, but it does make me think that lots of people are confused about evidence, and that there is no _necessary_ or _strict_ connection between an unwillingness to accept testimony on its own as good evidence with gender or cases of sexual harassment or abuse – the tendency seems to me to be very common, to apply to all sorts of fields, and to be found among both men and women. (It may well be more common in sexual harassment or abuse cases – we didn’t discuss these in the class, and I have no strong grounds for judgment, but the general phenomena is apparently very common and generally applicable.)

    (*) In the law, testimony is perfectly good evidence, and can often be sufficient for a claim, but it will have to cohere with our other beliefs, of course, to be accepted. This is an area where many things can go wrong, though the basic idea is not at all unreasonable, as Hume pointed out in a clear way in relation to his discussion of miracles.

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