#BelieveWomen and the Ethics of BeliefRenee Bolinger (Princeton University, Australian Catholic University)
Abstract: The call to #BelieveWomen is often rebuffed on the grounds that to believe accusations (in particular accusations of sexual assault) conflicts with due process and the presumption of innocence. I argue that we should interpret the hashtag as emphasizing an ethical and political obligation to trust women as a source of testimony, but that the epistemic content of this obligation is actually quite minimal—it does not require us to form full beliefs uncritically, go against our total evidence, or be more trusting than we have evidential justification to be. It simply requires taking women’s testimony that p as providing evidence supporting the truth of p. While this conflicts with pragmatic implicatures generated by appeals to the presumption of innocence, it is actually consistent with any plausible interpretation of the presumption itself. Finally, I suggest that the hashtag is not just an epistemic instruction to individuals, but also an attempt to unseat a pernicious striking-property generic that undermines justified trust.
Bio: Renée Jorgensen Bolinger is an Assistant Professor in Princeton’s Department of Politics and University Center for Human Values, and a Research Fellow at the Dianoia Institute of Philosophy at Australian Catholic University. Her research focuses on the relationship between agents’ moral and civil rights and informal social norms and conventions. Her current book project explores how social norms give content to the notion of ‘reasonable mistakes’ in consent and self-defense. She also has ongoing research projects in social and political philosophy of language, specifically slurs, epithets, and hate speech; the use of statistical information for racial profiling, statistical discrimination, predictive policing and sentencing; and just war theory. More information on these projects is available on her website: www.reneebolinger.com.
She received her PhD in Philosophy in 2017 and spent the 2017-2019 academic years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian National University. Her work has appeared in Philosophy and Public Affairs, the Journal of Political Philosophy, Noûs, and Analysis, among other journals.
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