The Jellema Lecture Series is pleased to present Dr. Jennifer Lackey, of Northwestern University, for the 2019 lecture: False Confessions, Testimonial Injustice, and Intellectual Humility

Lecture abstract: 

It is not uncommon to find moral arguments on behalf of the importance of agency; for instance, we cannot properly hold people properly morally responsible for their actions if their agency is undermined through manipulation or coercion. In my work on false confessions I show that there is also a direct epistemic route to the importance of agency. In particular, it is not only the case that the undermining of agency can result in a distinctive form of epistemic injustice—agential testimonial injustice—but also that it can have negative consequences for the evidence in question. Confession evidence that is extracted is often (i) unreliably acquired, (ii) illegitimately swamping and/or distorting of other relevant evidence, and (iii) false. We thus have specifically epistemic reasons for respecting one another’s agency.

There is also a straightforward connection with intellectual humility as a remedy for the agential testimonial injustice I identify in my work on false confessions. Not only do we accord more credibility than we should to confessing people, we also give ourselves as recipients of confessions more credibility than we should, i.e., we think that we have uncovered definitive evidence of guilt when in fact it is fallible. Moreover, empirical studies shows that one of the reasons people find confession evidence so powerful is that they are convinced that they would never confess to something they didn’t do. In so doing, people are failing to recognize their own intellectual vulnerabilities and limitations. Appropriately owning one’s own intellectual limitations could thus serve as a solution to both of these paths to agential testimonial injustice regarding confession evidence.

About the Lecturer:

Dr. Jennifer Lackey is the Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University, and is the director of the Northwestern Prison Education Program. She specializes in various areas of epistemology. Her current areas of research include the epistemology of false confessions, group lies, group justified belief, the epistemology of punishment, disagreement, academic freedom, the epistemology of sexual consent, the distribution of credibility, testimonial injustice, and collective epistemology.