About Me



KISS Linux

Part 1, Question 1: Explain with detail three types of ignorance covered in
class. How are they similar? How are they different? 

In this paper, I will discuss the similarities and differences between Sarah
Hoagland's relational ignorance, Alison Bailey's strategic ignorance, and Gaile
Pohlhaus' structural ignorance. I will start by exploring Sarah Hoagland's
relational ignorance, detailing her perspective on the relation between the
oppressed and oppressors. Then, I will compare and contrast Alison Bailey's
strategic ignorance with this view, explaining in detail these similarities and
differences by discussing what exactly makes Bailey's ignorance unique. Finally,
I will discuss Gaile Pohlhaus' structural ignorance, comparing and contrasting
it with both strategic and relational ignorance.

Sarah Hoagland's relational ignorance is primarily defined by how it construes
the relations between people. She says that "whiteness does not exist
independently from engagements with people of color" (Hoagland, 98). She adds
"whiteness doesn't exist independently from engagements with people of color,
even, or especially, if those engagements are white practices of erasure" (98).
Whiteness, as a concept, is "built on exclusion and racial subjection" (99). For
Hoagland, the positions of power which act to define who people are and the
relationships between them construct a kind of ignorance. Whites are "ignorant
of our interdependency with people of color" (99). For Hoagland, this
relationality is a key aspect of resisting the oppression that marginalized
groups experience. She says that "to say one is subordinated... is not to say
one is passive and unable to respond. One can be both subordinated and
resistant. One can be both silenced and speaking" (106). What Hoagland means is
that oppressed people can refuse to operate within the dominate logic and reject
the framework that subjugates them. The logic of resistance is "a refusal to
take up the dominant logic and a denial of the relationships it designates, a
resistance to animating the self constructed there" (106). The acts of
resistance are those in which the marginalized refuse to be erased by the
relations defined by whites. They can refuse to be marginalized in that way; the
marginalized are not "only constituted within [the dominant logic]" (106). 

Alison Bailey's strategic ignorance is very similar to Hoagland's account of
relational ignorance. For Bailey, there is a relational component to ignorance
in that there are ways in which people have color "have strategically engaged
with white folks' ignorance in ways that are advantageous" (Bailey, 84). In this
way, Bailey and Hoagland both agree that there is an aspect of relationality
between whites and people of color, between oppressors and the oppressed. Bailey
and Hoagland both see this relationality as something which the marginalized can
use to their advantage. Indeed, Bailey says that "the logic of curdling... Is a
perfect example of how oppressed subjects, as agents, can animate their
ambiguity as a tool of resistance" (89). However, Bailey and Hoagland diverge in
what this resistance resembles.  Bailey says that it is a "political strategy"
(89) and that "oppressed resistant subjects willfully animate this ambiguity to
their own advantage" (89). Strategic ignorance cannot, she says, "take the form
of active ignoring, erasure, and unconscious detachment" (89). As we saw for
Hoagland, relational ignorance is a kind of erasure by white people of people of
color, a way to define their own identity utilizing racial oppression (Hoagland
98-9). Instead, for Bailey, the marginalized use this ignorance to gain
advantages, and "use dominant misconceptions for creative responses to
oppression" (Bailey, 88). Thus, both Bailey and Hoagland consider the
marginalized and oppressed to act in ways which resist their oppression, but in
different ways and for different ends. For Hoagland, it is for resistance, to
act with one's own identity and maintain their self. For Bailey, resistance is a
way of responding to oppression for survival. 

Gaile Pohlhaus' structural ignorance is similar to both Hoagland's and Bailey's,
but maintains a unique characterization of ignorance as a structural system to
restrain individuals. Pohlhaus discusses Maria Lugones' notion of 'worlds'
to "see that who a person is and what she can do occur within a living context;
the meaning or significance of our thoughts and actions is something that cannot
be separated from the circumstances in which they occur" (Pohlhaus, 231).
Indeed, worlds are "spaces inhabited by people containing a description and
construction of life, including the constructions of the relationships" that
sustain them (Bailey, 89). Worlds are "not autonomous, but intertwined
semantically and materially" (230). As we can see, Pohlhaus' understanding of
personal experiences and identities as 'worlds' in which we exist, separated but
meshing together in our interactions, helps us define the meanings behind our
thoughts and actions. Our relationality, as it were, is an inseparable aspect of
who we are as individuals, and on this point Bailey and Hoagland would agree.
However, Pohlhaus considers a different way in which our relationality works to
constrain and impact our lives. She says that "meaningful action is enabled and
constrained by intersubjective coordination with other agents" (227). In other
words, the ways in which we act with each other have the capacity to constrain
our own agency. Wrongful requests, for Pohlhaus, are ways in which people's
agency is restricted (236). This restriction on people and the marginalization
of groups is manifested in the structure of the system itself.  Pohlhaus would
agree with Hoagland in saying that this is a process of erasure, although it is
an erasure of actions, not identity. She says that worlds can unfairly constrain
"certain persons' range of possible action while simultaneously making invisible
the way in which it does so" (232). This process of erasure renders the
marginalization and oppression itself an invisible act, but continues to be
something resisted. Structural ignorance therefore relies heavily on our
intersubjectivity and relationality with others, and is likewise something to be
resisted by the marginalized and oppressed. 

In summary, these three types of ignorance are similar yet strikingly different
in two ways. First, they all in some kind of way rely on our relationality as
people. Second, all three authors consider these types of ignorance to generate
oppression that can be resisted. However, the extent and depth to which our
relationality plays a role in each ignorance is different, either stemming from
positions of power as in Hoagland's account or in the depth of our own personal
subjective worlds we live in. Likewise, the resistance itself for each ignorance
is different, either being something that the marginalized must do in order to
gain advantages, as Bailey suggests, or as acts of surviving oppression and
maintaining one's agency in a place that attempts to restrict it. 

Part 1, Question 2: Nancy Tuana offered a theory of 'willful ignorance' and
Elizabeth Spelman articulated a theory of 'committed ignorance'. Explain with
detail these two theories. How are they different?  How are they similar?

In this paper, I will explore the similarities and differences between Nancy
Tuana's account of willful ignorance and Elizabeth Spelman's theory of committed
ignorance. Tuana pulls from Spelman to articulate her concept of willful
ignorance. Thus, these two concepts of ignorance are similar in that they both
place ignorance as an active thing someone achieves and that this ignorance
requires serious effort on the individual's part. Tuana manages to generate an
ignorance that is different from Spelman's in terms of both its production and
maintenance along with who the employers of each ignorance are, Tuana’s
involving some form of self-deception of the privilege about the claim while
Spelman's requires a an individual to be commitment to and interested in the
claim being false. 

Tuana and Spelman construct their ignorance in two similar ways. Both are an
achievement for the individual and require an effort on the part of the ignorant
person. Tuana for instance says, quoting Marilyn Frye, that "to begin to
appreciate [that ignorance is not passive] one need only hear the active verb
'to ignore' in the word 'ignorance'" (Tuana, 10). Indeed, willful ignorance is
one in which people have committed to a kind of inverted epistemology. She says,
quoting Mills, that this inverted epistemology makes it so that "whites will in
general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made" (11). This
ignorance is actively employed by the privileged and "serves to stabilize
aspects of racism in Europe and the United States" racism involves an active
production and preservation of ignorance" (10). This ignorance is, thus, a kind
of achievement for the privileged, in that they must constantly pursue the
maintenance of their ignorance. It is, as it were, a "determined ignorance"
(10). Likewise, Spelman describes committed ignorance as an active kind of
achievement. She says that this ignorance is not something that is easy to
maintain. Indeed, ignorance is "sometimes an appalling achievement" (Spelman,
120). The maintenance and production of ignorance can take "grotesquely
prodigious effort" (120). It is this effort on behalf of the ignorant person
that elevates this committed ignorance beyond a merely passive not-knowing.
Instead, it is active and requires immense effort to preserve in the world.
Tuana says that "ignorance... is not a simple lack of knowledge... it is rather
a desire to have the facts... be false, coupled by a fear that they are not, but
where the consequences of their being true are so high, it is better to
cultivate ignorance" (Tuana, 11). As Tuana is pulling from Spelman here, one
would expect their accounts of this effort to be very similar. Indeed, Spelman
says that it is "better to ignore that [the claim that Black America's
grievances are real] altogether, given the fearful consequences of it being
true. Better not to have thought at all, than to have thought and lost"
(Spelman, 121). The white American is committed to this claim being false, and
insofar as they are committed, must exert effort to maintain this ignorance. 

However, Tuana and Spelman's accounts of ignorance diverge in terms of how they
are managed and what these theories of ignorance are the result of.  For
instance, Tuana claims that willful ignorance is a form of self-deception.
Indeed, it is "a deception that we impose upon ourselves, but it is not an
isolated lie we consciously tell ourselves' Rather, willful ignorance is a
systematic process of self-deception, a willful embrace of ignorance" (Tuana,
11). For Tuana, willful ignorance requires that individuals deceive themselves
into their own disbelief. Those who embrace this ignorance on Tuana's view are
"in positions of privilege" (11) and continue their sustained efforts in
actively "ignoring the oppression of others and one's role in that exploitation"
(11). On Tuana's view, willful ignorance is an ignorance in privileged people,
actively deceiving themselves to avoid acknowledging oppression and their role
in it. Contra Tuana, Spelman argues that committed ignorance is not a
self-deception of privileged people, but is instead an intentional attitude
related to their commitments to certain claims being false, and this commitment
is the result of being interested in the maintenance of their world view.
Spelman says that "[the white American] is not self-deceived, for whatever else
self-deception involves... it certainly involves having a false belief
(otherwise there is no deception)" (Spelman, 122). As it is, the white American
does not have a belief about black Americans grievances being real, but instead
"is in the interesting position of neither believing that [it] is true nor
believing that [it] is false, and so of having neither a true nor a false belief
about [its] being true or false...  [the white American] ignores [black
America's grievances]" (122). It is not that the white American lies to
themselves over and over about these grievances, but instead they are committed
to not believing in the grievances and wanting them to be false for fear of how
it would rock their worldview.  Indeed, Spelman says that "ignoring [black
America's grievances]...  allows [the white American] to stand by [its] being
false, to be committed to [its] being false, without believing that [it] is
false" (121). These people are committed to this belief, and their interest in
its falseness, "given the fearful consequences of it being true" (121). Thus, it
isn't necessarily people of privilege who are exhibit committed ignorance.
Instead, it is those who have an important interest or commitment to the claim
they are ignorant of being false. 

In conclusion, Nancy Tuana and Elizabeth Spelman both have similar but
ultimately unique characterizations of a certain kind of ignorance. Tuana's
willful ignorance is like Spelman's committed ignorance insofar as both forms of
ignorance require that ignorance of these kinds be an active kind of ignoring of
certain claims, and that this activity is an ongoing effort, whether cultivated
by the individual or actively ignored by them. Likewise, willful ignorance and
committed ignorance have strong differences. The willfully ignorant person is
one who practices self-deception with respect to the claims of oppression by
people and results from a position of privilege, whilst committed ignorance is
an intentional choice to ignore claims that have damaging results for their own
personal worldview and understanding of their world, and thus are interested in
its being false. 

Part 2, Question 1: Throughout the course of the semester we have explored both
theories aimed at mitigating against ignorance and theories aimed at exploring
the notion of ignorance. This suggests that there is a 'problem of ignorance'.
In an essay, offer an argument that forwards a position on the 'problem' of
ignorance. What, in your estimation, is the problem of ignorance? What kind of
problem is it? What are the consequences of the problem, as you've articulated

In this paper, I argue that the problem of ignorance is a serious issue
constituted at least in part by social position and structures that obscure
certain facts, and that these things are the product of our own social
situations and our personal worlds. I will first discuss what I take the problem
of ignorance to be and explain why I believe this to be the case. Then, I will
explain that this problem is a structural one, generated by the intermeshing of
our unique worlds and social positions and how those worlds relate to one
another. Finally, I will detail some of the consequences of this position,
namely a kind of incommensurability between knowers.

In her essay 'Wrongful Requests and Strategic Refusals to Understand', Gaile
Pohlhaus Jr. starts her discussion of wrongful requests by considering what it
means for our claims to make sense. She says that "understanding another's
reasoning requires one to do more than hold a particular set of claims in mind"
(225). Instead, one must "follow the sense of those claims, so that the claims
may be evaluated for what they mean" (225). These meanings and the ways in which
we evaluate the sense of these words do not, she says, exist outside of human
practices and experience.  Instead, they exist intersubjectively, born out of
our conversations and interactions with each other in day to day life (225). As
we live our lives, we are taught various things, see things, hear things, etc.
These various experiences feed into our worldview, shape us and guide us in our
development.  But it is an almost entirely uncontroversial to claim that we
cannot learn everything. We do not see, hear, or live the lives of others, at
least not from their perspective. In this way, we are isolated from one another.
It is this inability to experience what someone else has which causes our
inability to fundamentally understand what they are saying to us. We understand
our own world only because we are so intimately related to it. But to other
people, our way of seeing the world may be completely foreign, our experiences
and the ways in which we understand the things that happen are not entirely
similar to the ways others do. We are constantly faced with things we are
ignorant of, and thus must continuously work to reorient ourselves and our
understanding. But this reorientation is not easy. As Pohlhaus puts it,
"following the sense of another's reasoning is not wholly neutral, but requires
one's participation in, and so maintenance of, that which gives sense to her
claims" (226). Thus, the problem of ignorance is intimately related to our
personal world, and this constant attempt to understand the sense of someone's
words is an attempt by individuals to resolve the problem. They do not
understand their interlocutor’s world, but attempt to do so, entering an
unknown world to try and follow the sense of their claims. 

It is important to understand precisely why this constant reorientation is
necessary, and why our worlds are so difficult for others to explore and
understand. The primary issue at hand then is our worlds. We now turn to the
question of where we are positioned with respect to other people, and how do we
see each other. The idea of personal, interconnected worlds is discussed by both
Pohlhaus and Maria Lugones in detail. Pohlhaus says that the notion of worlds
allows us "to see that who a person is and what she can do occur within a living
context" (231). That is to say, our lives are the shapers of our worlds, and
they are defined by our experiences. These worlds are "not autonomous, but
intertwined semantically and materially" (230). One aspect of this
'intertwining' may be spoken of in terms of the relations between the
marginalized and the people in power. For instance, Lugones offers an analysis
of how the 'curdled', or mixed race people, are purified by the lover of
objectivity, the 'rational' white man. She says that the lover of purity seeks
"control through unity and the production and maintenance of himself as
unified... we exist only as incomplete, unfit beings, and they exist as complete
only to the extent that what we are, and what is absolutely necessary for them,
is declared worthless" (Lugones, 467). The lover of purity seeks to purify those
he views as tainted and dirty, like "women, the poor, the colored, or the queer"
(467). This purification, rejection, and devaluation strongly defines the lives
of these groups, who exist in a place of marginalization. Their world, as it
were, is stripped of its unique qualities, its differences and histories, by the
white man who seeks to maintain his world battles things like "impurity,
ambiguity, [and] multiplicity as they threaten his own fiction" (467). Thus, the
worlds of marginalized persons are restructured and reoriented to align with the
worlds of the privileged, those who are unaware of their own position and why it
is so dangerous. Therefore, the structure of these worlds conforms to those with
power, and these worlds perpetuate themselves in the systems they create to
preserve this structure. As Alison Bailey says, whiteness is "built on exclusion
and racial subjection" (Bailey, 99). These acts of purification and are
constantly repeated in the systems constructed by those in power. Tuana says
that they actively "ignore the oppression of others and one's role in that
exploitation" (Tuana, 11). These comes together, culminating in a world that, as
Charles Mills says, "they themselves are unable to understand" (Alcoff, 49).
These systems put in place are directly responsible for white Americans being
unable to understand the devastation they have wrought on people historically
and currently, unable to comprehend their position of privilege and the
destruction of cultures and worlds. They are, as it were, unable to reorient
themselves and their worlds, unable to make sense of the claims of those around
them who are marginalized. 

What follows, then, is the question of what exactly all of this might entail.
It seems to be the case that it is almost hopeless that this problem can be
overcome. If it happens to be that the systems and power structures put in place
by those who are privileged continue to operate in the ways they have been
designed to, we may never fully be able to understand each other. If there is no
neutrality in attempting to make sense of the meanings our interlocutors use,
attempts to do so may come off as hostile or epistemically unwarranted. Indeed,
this is precisely what Pohlhaus argues is the case, at least in instances where
the marginalized are asked to consider how the privileged view things.
Alternatively, any attempt to go in the other direction with this communication
seem immediately dangerous to the well-being of the marginalized person. While
they may escape the situation physically unharmed, gaslighting and
microaggressions are difficult and common problems to deal with in conversations
on social justice, persecution, marginalization, and privilege. Even in reading
all of these papers on ignorance, oppression, and power, I still find it
difficult to fully understand the true extent of the problems faced by those in
different worlds than my own. It is unclear to me what they suffer from and how
they can at all hope to convince me that the world I live in is a fabrication,
constructed from my own social position and the systems put in place to keep me
privileged. Indeed, if appears as though the problem of ignorance has
constructed its own positive feedback loop, one is dangerous and difficult to
untangle and intervene in. 


Dilyn Corner (C) 2020-2022