An ethical obligation to ignore the unreliable

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Stephen John has recently suggested that the ethics of communication yields important insights as to how values should be incorporated into science. In particular, he examines cases of “wishful speaking” in which a scientific actor (e.g. a tobacco company) endorses unreliable conclusions in order to obtain the consequences of the listener treating the results as credible. He concludes that what is wrong in these cases is that the speaker surreptitiously relies on values not accepted by the hearer, violating what he terms “the value-apt ideal”. I expand on this view by integrating into it Miranda Fricker’s account of testimonial injustice. I find testimonial injustice can arise in a manner unanticipated by Fricker, specifically that a credibility excess given to a speaker typically reduces the ability of others in the epistemic community to transmit knowledge, a phenomenon I term “collateral epistemic injustice”. I argue that this possibility entails that receivers have an ethical obligation to assign credibility judiciously. A further consequence of this view is that the value-apt ideal is insufficient. Because audience members have an obligation to assign credibility judiciously, a speaker cannot merely rely on shared values, they must also be open about the extent to which their conclusions depend on those values. Thus, both wishful speaking and obscuring the value-dependent nature of a conclusion makes one an unreliable source of information. Accordingly, other community members have an ethical obligation to ignore a speaker that frequently engages in either.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer Nature B.V.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences(all)

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