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Social Theory and Practice

Volume 42, Issue 2, April 2016

Dominating Speech

Casey Rebecca Johnson
Pages 304-317

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, Come Sit By Me
Gossip as Epistemic Good and Evil

In this paper, I argue that gossip is both an epistemic evil—it can restrict access to information—and an epistemic good—it can be a key resource for knowers. These two faces of gossip can be illustrated when we consider the effects of participating in and being excluded from gossiping groups. Social psychology has begun to study these effects and their results are useful here. Because of these two aspects, I argue, gossip holds a peculiar place in our epistemic economy. It is vicious, and employed to restrict agents in their capacities as knowers, and it is also a valuable epistemic commodity, employed to enable agents in their epistemic capacities. To see these sides clearly, I employ some machinery from Miranda Fricker’s work on epistemic injustice. The tools from Fricker will help demonstrate that gossip can be both the means of unjustly restricting an epistemic agent, and the epistemically valuable ends from which she is restricted. Finally, I draw some conclusions for epistemology more generally.