I’m going to post a series of blog entries that argue that responsibility is relational. What does this mean? It means, first and foremost, that responsible agency depends upon responsibility-conducive social relationships and structures. These structures include conditions of epistemic justice—conditions free from pernicious stereotypes. Epistemic injustice (EI) impairs the capacities implicated in responsible agency (responsibility-constitutive capacities) in people living in these epistemic conditions. It undermines these capacities in privileged and disadvantaged groups alike, albeit (often) in different ways. In privileged group members, EI tends to induce implicit and explicit biases that prevent people from making rational responsibility attributions; and in disadvantaged group members, it tends to induce stereotype threat and to impose material disadvantages that prevent people from exercising responsibility to the fullest possible extent, and from effectively defending themselves against misplaced blame and censure. EI also undermines the confidence with which we can hold people responsible, since it contaminates the epistemic background against which we make responsibility attributions. This means that our reactive attitudes can only be, at best, weakly justified. In these ways, EI undermines our responsible agency, and creates inequalities our shared set of responsibility practices.
A quick note: I’ve been working on relational responsibility for some time now, but the ideas in these posts were to some extent influenced by talks given at the ‘Extended Responsibility’ workshop that I organized at the Practical Justice Initiative at the University of New South Wales in November of 2016. The speakers were Alicia Coram, Paul Formosa, Katrina Hutchsion, Catriona Mackenzie, and Gualtiero Piccinini. Catriona Mackenzie is working on a relational account of responsibility, and Katrina Hutchison is writing about oppression and how it affects our responsibility practices, and these ideas happen to intersect with some of my own.