LECTURE ABSTRACT: In this lecture, I consider several ways, within an externalist semantics, we might understand the project of improving our concepts to promote greater justice. The tools that culture provides us – such as language, concepts, and inferential patterns – provide frames for coordination and shape our interaction. There are multiple ways these tools can fail us, e.g., by the limited structure of options they make intelligible. However, we can sometimes reconfigure the resources so that our practical orientations are more responsive to what is good and coordinate in ways that are just. I argue that in some cases the necessary amelioration is epistemic, but in other cases it is properly semantic. Such reconfiguration often happens in law; it also occurs in social movements, counter-publics, subaltern communities, and in fascist propaganda. Contestation over meaning is not “mere semantics” for – together with political and material change – it can shape our agency and our lives together.
SERIES TITLE: "Ideology, Critique, and Conceptual Amelioration."
SERIES ABSTRACT: Culture frames the possibilities for thought and action: from within a culture, certain morally relevant facts are eclipsed and others distorted, and meaningful action occurs within a limited range of options. On my view, problematic networks of social meanings constitute an ideology. Such networks prevent us from properly appreciating what is valuable (and how it is valuable) and organize us in unjust ways. Entrenched ideologies are resilient and are substantial barriers to social justice.
However, culture is not a rigid frame, but is a set of tools – social meanings – made ready for use in certain ways. In the first lecture, “Ideology in Practice,” I will elaborate my conception of ideology in relation to a theory of social practices and will locate potential sites of agency and resistance. In the second lecture, “Conceptual Amelioration: Going On, Not in the Same Way,” I will argue that resistant practices can improve or replace our concepts, and thus combat ideology. Working within an externalist approach to thought and meaning, I argue that both epistemic and semantic amelioration is possible. However, if, under conditions of injustice, our cognition is shaped by ideology, how can we gain the moral knowledge needed for critique? How do we know what counts as amelioration? In the third lecture, “Critical Standpoints and the Epistemology of Justice,” I sketch a political epistemology for non-ideal conditions by exploring the phenomenon of consciousness raising.