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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 28, 2012

Freedom, Religion, and Gender

Devora Shapiro
Pages 67-82

"Objectivity" and the Arbitration of Experiential Knowledge

In order to arbitrate conflicting propositional knowledge claims—such as when two individuals claim to know the height of a tree in the yard—there is (ostensibly) a “fact of the matter” about who is correct. Experiential, non-propositional knowledge, on the other hand, is not so obviously mediated. For one, experiential knowledge is—at least partially—subjective; one of its virtues is that it matters what a person’s background is, socially, etc., when determining the legitimacy of their claims. But this suggests a question: How do we decide whose experience of an event is right, when two individuals differ in their accounts of a single event? In this paper I present the concept of experiential knowledge, asserting that this knowledge is frequently nonpropositional. I argue that accepting experiential knowledge is fundamental to issues of social justice, specifically when it is precisely the claims of those who have the least social or political “authority” who are in danger of having their experiences and the knowledge gained from those experiences, discounted. I address worries over the arbitration of experiential knowledge, and conclude that in cases where necessary, arbitration is both possible and often morally required.

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