LECTURE ABSTRACT: If we are aiming to understand, critique, and overcome injustice, is it useful to employ the notion of ideology? In this lecture I will defend a conception of ideology according to which ideologies play an important role in stabilizing systems of oppression, and ideology critique is a crucial tool for achieving social justice. I begin with an account of social practices that reveals how they are constitutive of social agency, enable coordination around things of value, and are a site for social intervention. The social world, on this account, does not begin when psychologically sophisticated individuals interact to share knowledge or make plans. Instead, culture - what I call a cultural technē - shapes agents to interpret and respond to each other and the physical world around us. Practices shape us as we shape them. An ideology is a cultural technē gone wrong: it occludes or distorts the tools we have for perceiving, understanding, or valuing, and/or the practices it structures organize us in unjust ways. Social movements that offer ideology critique both reveal the distortion and invite us to act in new, more just, ways.
LECTURE SERIES TITLE: "Ideology, Critique, and Conceptual Amelioration."
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.