- Editor’s Note
I’m thrilled to write my first Editor’s Note in Dr. Kukla’s absence and grateful that they entrusted the journal to me while on their sabbatical. This first issue under my editorship comprises three nuanced, careful looks at how to ethically evaluate practices that can have significant effects on the well-being of vulnerable populations.
In this issue’s featured article, “Contextual Injustice,” Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa considers two cases that have clear relevance for our moment: Dora, who identifies as a woman and has a penis, and Professor Vine, who has a reputation of sexually harassing students and employees over the years. The questions that Ichikawa sets out to answer are the following:
1. Is it true that Dora is a woman?
2. Is it true that we know that Professor Vine is a serial sexual harasser?
3. What do our answers to the first two questions tell us about certain forms of injustice suffered by trans individuals and by people who report sexual harassment?
The goal of the paper, then, is to articulate the notion of contextual injustice, which he defines as the unjust setting of disadvantageous contextual parameters for a conversation. Although that sounds a bit technical (and it is), it also really matters.
In short, the argument is this: linguistic contextualism helps us to understand how questions like 1 and 2 can generate opposing claims that are both true. When we are not in a court of law, we do not require the same evidentiary requirement, and so we can know that Professor Vine is a serial sexual harasser; and we can know that Dora is a woman in a self-identification-emphasizing context, but is not a woman in a genitals-emphasizing context. The important move, however, is to point out that we may not simply want to know whether such a claim is true, and so what the context is; we may want to know what the context should be, and perhaps then even speak and act so as to bring it about that the appropriate context is used. Ichikawa writes, “Those who oppose classifying trans [End Page vii] women as ‘women’ do not merely happen to be speaking in contexts that emphasize other criteria; they think those criteria are the important ones for the purpose of discourse about ‘women’”(10). And those people are wrong—not because what they’re saying is false, but because they are trying to establish an unjust context due to mistaken views concerning what’s important concerning the concept of ‘woman.’
The final move of the paper, then, is to situate the concept of a contextual injustice, which in the context of knowledge ascription, Ichikawa takes to be a form of testimonial injustice. In using one’s social position or power to establish a context that raises epistemic standards so as to devalue another’s testimony, one commits a contextual injustice. This is what’s going on in the “himpathetic” defenses of serial sexual assaulters like Professor Vine in which defenders claim that such a professor is ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ But we all can know that he’s a serial sexual assaulter if we resist these attempts to create a legalistic social context.
In the second article of the issue, Daniel A. Wilkenfeld and Allison M. McCarthy evaluate the application of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as a treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), specifically from within the bioethics context. Although ABA is the so-called ‘gold standard’ treatment for ASD, it is taken by many in the disability literature to be problematic because it attempts to treat something that is not a disability, but Wilkenfeld and McCarthy want to expand beyond this narrow approach, since it requires buy-in of a particular theory of disability. What they want to show, by contrast, is that a reasonable application of bioethical principles also reveals the practice to be seriously problematic, regardless of whether autism is a disability, and even regardless of whether the practice “works.”
The primary argument seems to concern an autonomy violation, and although that sounds straightforward, the specification of that violation is interesting. Wilkenfeld and McCarthy are most...