Date of Degree

9-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Philosophy

Advisor

Noël Carroll

Committee Members

Nickolas Pappas

Miranda Fricker

Subject Categories

Aesthetics | Epistemology | Ethics and Political Philosophy | Feminist Philosophy | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Social Psychology | Theory and Philosophy | Women's Studies

Keywords

responsibility, fiction, representation, intentionalism, autonomism, cognitivism

Abstract

The goal of this project is to provide a theoretical underpinning for the belief that creators of fiction should dedicate time to diversifying the cast of characters in their fictions, and to avoiding harmful stereotypes when doing so. I establish this as a hermeneutical responsibility: because of the epistemic influence fictions can wield over their audiences, trafficking in harmful stereotypes of marginalized identities (instances of which I call Bad Representation Problems) or excluding marginalized identities entirely (which I call No Representation Problems) from one’s fictions can reinforce harmful beliefs about real people with those identities. The more popular the fiction, the more harmful these actions can be.

Borrowing from virtue epistemology, theories of hermeneutical injustice, and social psychology, I build a case for due diligence, an epistemic virtue specifically for creators of fiction; those who discharge their responsibility to avoid Bad and No Representation Problems in their fictions—thereby doing what they can to reduce their fiction’s contribution to a social group’s hermeneutical marginalization—do so through practicing due diligence. Those who fail to do so practice either the corresponding deficient vice, laziness, or the excessive vice, paralysis.

In the process of my argument, I address a handful of possible objections: those leveraged by non-cognitivists, claiming fictions do not affect us epistemically in any significant way; those leveraged by radical autonomists, who believe a fiction creator’s only responsibility is to the quality of their fiction; and anti-intentionalists, who are skeptical that a creator’s intentions can fix the meaning of a work. I also investigate the intersection between social stereotypes and fictional stereotypes, and how the two combined can sometimes result in real world harm.

Through these steps and an amalgam of examples, I establish a theory that can be levied by movements like #RepresentationMatters and #OscarsSoWhite to argue that yes, creators should care about diversity in their fictions.

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