Ram Neta writes:

Dandelet’s paper presents a novel puzzle – what she calls “The Puzzle of Self-Gaslighting”.  She introduces the puzzle by describing a story in which a 16-year old girl “C” and her friend were on an empty beach when suddently they

“noticed a naked man some ways off, steadily moving in their direction.  In that moment [C] believed that the man ‘had stripped nude and was approaching… waving his erect penis,’ with obviously malicious intentions.”

But soon after the incident had passed, C

“began to second-guess this original impression, prompted in some way by the worry that others would not believe her version of events if she were to share it with them.”

Although C’s second-guessing is prompted by the aforementioned worry, C experiences the doubt as a rational response to her inability to rule out various alternative hypotheses:

“C … gives up her original belief about the beach incident as she considers alternative possibilities consistent with the broad outline of her experience. Back on the beach, she believed that the naked man was a sexual predator, and she had compelling reasons for thinking this. But as she reflects on the matter afterwards, she starts to feel that her first impression could, after all, have been mistaken. She decides that there are certain possibilities she needs to rule out if she is to be justified in sticking to it. First, there is the general possibility that her memory of the event “distorts reality.” This happens all the time, so why couldn’t it be true this time? There are also more specific possibilities that C considers—ways reality could have been, that her memory might have distorted. Maybe the man was just trying to skinny-dip. Maybe walking around naked on beaches is just a relaxing activity for him. Maybe he was scratching himself at the moment C saw him, and she happened to see him from an unfortunate angle which, for the very brief duration of the encounter, made it look as if he were waving his erect penis. Maybe he had not even seen her and her friend until they started running away. And so on.  [In short,] by taking certain possibilities seriously, C puts herself in a frame of mind in which it seems to her that she should not stick to her original belief after all, and she gives it up.”

Dandelet follows others in using the phrase “self-gaslighting” to refer to C’s self-doubt concerning the accuracy of her own perceptual beliefs concerning the stranger’s behavior.  She says, however, that the phrase is less than fully apt, since gaslighting involves deception, and C is not – or at least not obviously – deceiving herself:  the fallibility considerations to which she appeals are all true.  Is there some other sense, then, in which C’s second-guessing her initial judgment is somehow inappropriate?  In addressing this question, Dandelet writes:

“When she gives up her original belief because she realizes that there are various open hypotheses incompatible with it, she is exhibiting a kind of reasoning that in general seems perfectly correct from an epistemic point of view. To make this vivid, consider a variation of C’s case: You are standing on an apparently empty beach when, like C, you see a man some ways off. Fortunately this man is not naked, but wearing a blue and white striped towel around his waist—a towel that looks very much like the one that you left on the sand earlier, further along the beach in the direction from which the man is now approaching. You can even see the distinctive wine stain that you left on the towel last week, or at any rate this is how it seems to you in the moment. Immediately, you are filled with indignation. “That man stole my towel!” you think to yourself. … But later … you start to second-guess yourself. Memory is sometimes unreliable. Mightn’t it have been a different towel, after all? Blue and white stripes is not such an uncommon pattern, and as for the stain, it might have been a trick of the light. Even if it was your towel, couldn’t the man have picked it up before he saw you, in which case he might have thought that someone had forgotten it there a while ago? It would hardly be stealing in that case. As you reflect on these possibilities, you realize that you cannot rule them out, and so you give up your original belief.”

In these circumstances, there seems to be nothing at all inappropriate about your second-guessing yourself. And yet your evidential situation is closely analogous to C’s. Why, then, would it be any less appropriate for C to doubt her judgment in the first case than in the second?  This question is what Dandelet calls “the Puzzle of Self-Gaslighting.”

Dandelet’s response to the puzzle has the following form:  Although both cases involve the agent forming a belief on the basis of equally good visible evidence, and then coming to doubt her original belief by reflecting on equally likely possibilities of error, the cases differ from each other with respect to the reasons for which the agent reflects on those possibilities of error.  In the former case, the agent reflects on possibilities of error because she worries that others won’t believe her version of events, whereas in the latter case, the agent reflects on possibilities of error in an effort to (let’s say) adopt a more generous attitude towards other people.  If we suppose – as Dandelet does – that the agent’s original belief in each case is a rational response to her evidence, and that the agent’s subsequent doubt in each case is a rational response to her reflection on error-possibilities, we can then state Dandelet’s response to the puzzle by saying that what varies across the two cases is not the rationality of the agent’s belief, or of the agent’s doubt, but rather her motives for reflecting on the error-possibilities that rationally pressure her to doubt.  The motivation for such reflection in the latter case is generosity, but the motivation for it in the former case is an effort to comply with a set of unjust social expectations.  The pervasiveness of these expectations is, Dandelet says, a form of coercion, exercised upon C’s own reflective agency, and unfairly constricting her exercises of that agency.  More specifically, the value of avoiding others’ skepticism concerning her version of events makes it reasonable, Dandelet says, for C to reflect on reasons to doubt her own version of events, even though it is morally problematic that C is subject to this pressure towards self-doubt.

This kind of coercion is what Dandelet calls “epistemic coercion”.  Remember that phrase: it will soon become a standard part of the epistemologist’s toolkit, like “testimonial injustice” or “pragmatic encroachment”.

I hope that what I’ve said so far makes clear what epistemic coercion is, and how appeal to such coercion is supposed to solve the puzzle of self-gaslighting.  In the balance of this blog entry, I want to take issue with just one thing in Dandelet’s paper.  On her view, epistemic coercion involves an unfair restriction imposed upon how an agent “structures inquiry”.  But what does “structuring inquiry” amount to?  Although she doesn’t give an explicit answer to this question, Dandelet’s examples all suggest that structuring inquiry is a matter of employing certain rules or policies to guide one in drawing conclusions from one’s body of evidence.  Two people structure inquiry differently if, for instance, despite having all the same relevant background knowledge, one of them needs to see 100,000 green emeralds before concluding that all emeralds are green while the other needs to see 110,000 green emeralds before drawing that same conclusion.  For one of these emerald-researching agents to be subject to epistemic coercion would be for them to be subject to unfair pressure to adopt one rather than another of these inductive rules or policies – e.g., for them to be subject to unfair pressure to adopt an inductive rule that made, say, the affirmation of some conclusions require an especially large amount of evidence, while also making the affirmation of other conclusions require very little evidence, in comparison.

Maybe some cases of epistemic coercion operate in this way.  But not all cases operate in this way – in particular, as it’s described, Dandelet’s original case involving C doesn’t operate in this way.  C’s self-doubt needn’t involve the thought that her original view of events was based on insufficient evidence, e.g.., not getting a good enough look at what the stranger was doing.  What C doubts is not the degree to which her body of evidence supports her original view of events; it’s rather that she doubts her original view of what evidence she possesses.  But the question of what evidence one possesses is a question about the points from which one can begin one’s inquiry.  It’s not – at least, not so far as I can see – a question of how to structure the inquisitive activity that begins from those points.

Why does this matter?  As Dandelet sees it, the puzzle of self-gaslighting is the question of what could be wrong with C’s self-doubt, given that there’s nothing irrational about it.  But I wonder if we should accept the presupposition of the puzzle, viz., that there’s nothing irrational about C’s self-doubt.  People sometimes have good reasons to doubt their own view of what evidence they have – e.g., poor visual acuity, bad lighting, lack of attention – but these are not C’s reasons.  It’s not clear to me just how the story of C could be plausibly elaborated so that C ends up having good reasons to doubt her own view of what evidence she has.  But if C doubts her own view of what evidence she has, and does so without having any good reason to do so, then her doubt goes against her evidence, and for no good reason:  how could this be rational?


16 Replies to “Sophia Dandelet: “Epistemic Coercion”. Précis by Ram Neta

  1. The paper offers an excellent discussion of an important topic. I wonder, though, if coercion is the right idea for what is going on. I tend to think of coercion as a response to an action: I am threatened and my response is coerced. But in the cases discussed in the paper, the threat is anticipated, imagined, expected. It seems more like duress – in the freewill literature sometimes characterizes duress is a pressure “from within” in contrast to coercion. (However, examples of duress typically suggest that the pressure is irrational, such as a phobia, which isn’t what’s going on in the cases at hand; I would think that duress can also have an origin in socialization and be “rational,” as in the formation of adaptive preferences, but still….). In fact, I think neither ‘duress’ nor ‘coercion’ really work because the phenomenon is better thought of as a form of what the critical theory literature calls “subjection” (or in Foucault, “discipline”; or in Althusser, “interpellation). Social conditions shape men and women differently to participate in different practices and conform to different norms. And we learn to self-monitor to keep ourselves on track. Some of the practices and norms are epistemic. Many of them are unfair, oppressive, harmful. Repression or coercion stands in the background ready to keep us on track when we don’t do it for ourselves (think of Manne’s idea of misogyny), but the whole point is that coercion/repression isn’t necessary because we self-discipline. To call what is happening coercion papers over what seems to me an important distinction. (I recommend Foucault *Discipline and Punish* and Sandra Bartky “The Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” I also sketch the approach here: https://www.glass-bead.org/article/disciplined-bodies-and-ideology-critique/?lang=enview

  2. Alright, since others are being shy to jump in, I’ll start us off! A few of us chatted about this paper at a reading group last night, and some of the questions that came up were about how you see this paper fitting in to some literature in the vicinity. So, for example, do you think that epistemic coercion is an example of what Kristie Dotson calls “testimonial smothering”? On Dotson’s view, as I understand it, testimonial smothering occurs in cases where a speaker restricts their testimony because of the way that the speaker is (i.e. the speaker is incompetent in some way with respect to the content of testimony) and that this amounts to a kind of coerced silence. Obviously, you’re not principally interested in testimony, but instead in how the speaker forms beliefs, but I was interested to hear more about how you think these kinds of cases are related.

    I was also curious how you’re thinking about gaslighting. By the end of the paper, you seem unsure whether you want to think about cases of epistemic coercion as cases of self-gaslighting, because they don’t involve deception or epistemic irrationality. Do you think cases of gaslighting need to involve these? I wasn’t sure whether you wanted to endorse any particular view of gaslighting (e.g. the one developed by Katy Abramson).

    Thank you again for the paper, I really loved it!

  3. Hi Sally (if I may!),
    Thanks so much for your comment. The distinction that you make between coercion and subjection strikes me as very useful, and I agree that subjection seems more apt for what is going on in C’s case. I’m not familiar with the critical theory literature on this topic, so I’m grateful that you pointed me towards it. I also look forward to reading your article on the topic.

  4. Hi Sukaina,
    Thanks for your great questions!
    Re: testimonial smothering: I don’t see epistemic coercion (or perhaps better, epistemic subjection!) as a kind of testimonial smothering, but I think the two phenomena are still closely related in several ways. In a case of testimonial smothering, the victim self-censors, but she doesn’t necessarily change any of her beliefs or ways of reasoning. In a case of epistemic coercion, by contrast, the victim is actually led to change the way that thinks because of unfair practical pressures. So, that’s the difference as I see it. But there are still many points of connection between testimonial smothering and epistemic coercion. First, they will often look the same “from the outside,” since hearing what people say is the main way that we find out what they believe. Also, I think that they share many of the same triggers. For instance, the fact that other people wouldn’t believe you if you were to speak your mind is often a reason to self-censor, and in some circumstances it may also a reason to change your standards of reasoning. Finally, I suspect that the more we self-censor, the more susceptible we become to the even deeper and more insidious kind of self-regulation involved in capitulating to epistemic coercion…but I can’t back that up with any research!
    Re: gaslighting: I didn’t have any particular philosophical view of gaslighting in mind when I wrote this; I was thinking of the term as it is used in the popular discussions that I’ve seen. (Thank you for pointing me towards Abramson’s account!) I think that gaslighting someone, at least in the usual sense, does involve deceiving them. But I don’t think that a victim of gaslighting is necessarily being irrational. Some people are probably so good at being deceptive that you would need to be irrational in order to not be taken in!

  5. Sally:

    Thanks for linking to your piece “Disciplined Bodies and Ideology Critique”, which I hadn’t read before. I think your argument against the effort to ground a critique of ideology in biological facts is completely compelling, and I’m tempted to think that efforts to ground morality, culture, or language in biological facts are all equally doomed, and for analogous reasons.

    But is the normative pressure that operates on C (the protagonist of Sophia’s example) an example of subjection? I’m not sure, but maybe that’s because I’m not inhabiting C’s point of view well enough to understand the normative pressure in question. Does C think that her self-doubt is mandatory? Or does she think that it’s merely one permissible option among others? For it to be an example of subjection, wouldn’t C need to think of it in the first way?

  6. Also, Sophia, my favorite line from Abramson’s great paper is one that sharpens the issue of whether the normative pressure on C is a case of gaslighting: “The central desire or aim of the gaslighter, to put it sharply, is to destroy even the possibility of disagreement — to have his sense of the world not merely confirmed, but placed beyond dispute.”

  7. Thanks Ram – I think social norms are rarely viewed as “mandatory”. Or maybe I’m not sure what you think it is for something to be mandatory? It is almost never thought to be “rationally required” or “morally required”. Things are “socially required” in a sense, but social “requirements” allow for some degree of interpretation, flexibility, context sensitivity, etc. (I would think that norms of rationality and morality should too, but that’s a different issue.) For example, suppose it is a social norm that women defer to men. Is it thereby “mandatory” that women defer to men? Is it just that one can be criticized if one doesn’t? That doesn’t seem sufficient to be mandatory to me. Also, it is interesting that you take the lesson of my paper to be that social critique isn’t grounded in biology. Wow. I didn’t take that to be a point I was making.

  8. Hope no one minds my pitching in on this. I thought the paper was very well written, really a joy to read, and I’m completely convinced by Sophia’s analysis of the phenomenon. Earlier comments here reminded me of something that occurred to me while reading the paper.

    One additional feature of C’s case that seems to me consistent with the analysis but nonetheless missing is the plausible deniability of the coercion (or subjection, or duress). I don’t mean by this that C isn’t in fact coerced, but that part of what makes the coercion so insidious is that C is very unlikely to be in a position to demonstrate it to others, or to be sure of it herself. She might come to realise that she has adjusted her epistemic standards in response to the fear she won’t be believed. But is she responding to what she understands social epistemic norms to be, or what they actually are? Almost certainly the latter, but if C is already self-doubting, it won’t take much for someone unsympathetic to convince her that she’s being paranoid, or she has an exaggerated sense of others’ incredulity, or it’s “all in her head”. And she is thereby vulnerable not just to self-doubt, but to being persuaded that that self-doubt itself is something she’s doing to herself. This seems an important additional feature to how this often works – women coerced into self-doubt in a way that also works to hide the very fact they are being coerced.

  9. Hey Sally: you’re right — you make the point that a critique of ideology can’t be fully grounded in something completely outside ideology (e.g., anatomical sex differences). But, to the extent that the facts of biology are themselves partly shaped by ideology, the point you’re making is consistent with the effort to ground a critique of ideology in biology (whether or not you’d have any sympathy with such an effort).

    As for what’s “mandatory”… this is tricky. Let’s take an example. It’s obviously neither morally nor rationally required that I not wear a skirt — and I also doubt that any of my friends or colleagues would criticize me for doing so. But if I think about the prospect of wearing a skirt, I feel extremely uncomfortable, and I think it would be very hard for me to actually get myself to do it. This discomfort indicates to me that I’ve so thoroughly imbibed the sexist norms of my upbringing that I now experience it as somehow “mandatory” that I not wear a skirt. So does C feel a similar sort of discomfort about accepting her initial impressions of the event as accurate? I don’t know, but I thought that would help me to figure out if C’s self-gaslighting involves subjection.

  10. Hi Ram and Sally,
    Thanks for this super clarifying discussion of subjection. I hesitate to weigh in, since I first learned about the term in Sally’s original comment! But it seems to me that we might need quite a rich vocabulary, going well beyond just “mandatory” and “not mandatory,” to capture the full range of the oppressive social norms that we internalize in cases of subjection. You experience it as somehow mandatory that you not wear a skirt. But couldn’t there be other gender-related standards that exert a strong pull on you, even if this pull doesn’t have quite the force or flavor of “mandatory-ness”? Flouting these standards may feel not exactly forbidden while still feeling risky, uncomfortable, or self-undermining.

  11. Hi Matt,
    Thanks so much for reading the article, and for your comment! I think that the feature of C’s case that you’re highlighting is absolutely crucial, and one benefit of Sally’s distinction between coercion and subjection is that it makes it easier to see this feature and appreciate its importance. In most cases of coercion, it’s clear to the victim that she’s being forced to do something by someone else. But in cases of subjection, it will often seem to the victim that she is making completely free choices—and this is one of the things that makes subjection so insidious.

  12. Hi Sophia, thanks for this paper! And thanks to Sukaina and everyone at Pea Soup for these discussions, which are so fun.

    I really just want to hop on the coattails of a few folks who have already pointed you in the direction of Kate Abramson’s work on gaslighting (the 2014 paper is so, so good, and then she’s also got a forthcoming book on this stuff). I think her work might be especially helpful for thinking about the cases that you’re interested in, particularly because one of the crucial pillars of her analysis of gaslighting involves what she describes as “complicity” in one’s undoing. Following Ram’s example (hi, Ram!), here’s one of my favourite quotes from that paper:

    “[B]ecause of the ways in which gaslighting works through manipulation, the destruction of the target’s independent perspective is brought about, after a fashion, through her own complicity. If I’m manipulated into going along with something by a simple act of deception, I may feel embarrassed for having believed that person, but I won’t typically feel I’ve been complicit in having been so duped. Gaslighting, in contrast, is accomplished through manipulative means that leave its target sensing (rightly so) that she has been turned against herself. …Part of the moral horror of gaslighting is that it makes one complicit in one’s own destruction in these ways.”

    The idea that we can participate in our own undoing—morally, epistemically—is super interesting. It was partly in thinking through Kate’s analysis of gaslighting that I came to think that this distinctive kind of complicity is also at work in cases of predatory grooming, and other nearby phenomena.

  13. Thanks for your thoughts, Lauren! I’m really excited to check out Abramson’s work on this topic after all of these recommendations 🙂 The idea that we can participate in our own undoing is indeed super interesting, and strikes me as so helpful for understanding many kinds of gendered injustice. I’m reminded here of a quote from one of Jia Tolentino’s essays in her collection *Trick Mirror* (while we’re sharing quotes that we like):

    “When you are a woman, the things that you like get used against you. Or, alternatively, the things that get used against you have all been prefigured as things you should like. Sexual availability falls into this category. So does basic kindness, and generosity. Wanting to look good—taking pleasure in trying to look good—does, too. I like trying to look good, but it’s hard to say how much you can genuinely, independently like what amounts to a mandate.”

    I love this quote because it highlights the fact that some of the things that women are expected to be—kind, generous, inclined to give other people the benefit of the doubt, willing to take other people’s perspectives seriously—are actually great things! But once a woman realizes how differently these standards are enforced across gendered lines, and relatedly, how having these great qualities can actually be used against her, it’s hard for her to identify with them in an uncomplicated way. Even if she still endorses them! Suddenly she’s presented with a choice between continuing to be complicit in her own destruction, to borrow Abramson’s phrase, or deliberately getting rid of qualities that she really likes in herself.

    This is one thing that really struck me about C’s case. I think that there are actually great things about being the kind of person who is generally inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt. But when you’re a woman, being that way involves conforming to unjust expectations and pressures, and so it’s hard to escape a certain suspicion about your own motives for being epistemically generous—even if you completely endorse that as a character trait.

  14. Also I want to echo Lauren by saying: Thanks so much to Sukaina and Ram, and everyone at PEA Soup, and the other contributors to this discussion! This has been super fun and incredibly helpful.

  15. Maybe I’ll round out the two days of discussion by saying a few things in response to some of the really interesting questions that Ram raised in his précis.

    First, on the question of whether C’s decision to second-guess herself is really one about how to structure inquiry, or whether it is a decision about what evidence she has: I’m actually not completely sure how to distinguish between cases where someone changes her mind about what evidence she has, and ones in which she changes her mind about what conclusion is warranted by the evidence that she has. My confusion on this point stems from an underlying confusion about what counts as a person’s evidence and what counts as a conclusion that she is drawing on the basis of that evidence, and perhaps also (to put my cards on the table) a suspicion that this distinction is highly question-sensitive. If C is asking herself, “Was my original impression of the situation (P) veridical?” then she will treat her sense impression as of P, as well as her knowledge about what kinds of perceptual mistakes someone in her situation might be disposed to make, as relevant evidence; but of course, she cannot treat P as evidence without begging the question that she is asking. So even before she has decided whether her impression as of P was veridical, she must stop treating P as evidence, at least for the purposes of thinking about the question at hand.

    For this reason, I would hesitate to describe the conclusion of C’s second-guessing as a revised opinion about what evidence she has—since what evidence she has, it seems to me, is question-sensitive in a way that the conclusion of her second-guessing is not. I think that it is more natural to describe the conclusion of her second-guessing as a revised opinion about whether her evidence is really strong enough to warrant a full belief that she has been sexually harassed. This is what I was calling a decision about how to structure inquiry, but it now seems to me, in light of Ram’s comments, that this is a misleading name for it. I will have to think of something better!

    On the further question of whether C is doing something irrational when she gives up her original belief that she was sexually harassed: It still seems to me that there is nothing irrational about changing one’s mind in the way that C did. She knows, after all, that a person’s eyes can play tricks on them, especially when they are in an emotionally heightened state; in fact, she knows that she has been wrong in similar situations in the past. Don’t these facts give her a perfectly good epistemic reason to suspend judgment in this case? (Note: She might still think it quite likely that she was sexually harassed, but thinking that something is quite likely to have happened is not the same as thinking that it happened.)

    Hopefully some of that is helpful. Thank you again, Ram, for writing such an excellent and thought-provoking précis.

    I should also say: Although the official two days of discussion are drawing to a close, I would be very happy to continue talking about any of this stuff with anyone, either through PEA posts, email, or zoom! So please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have further thoughts.

  16. Hi Sophia,

    Thanks for your paper – I thought it was brilliant! Sorry I’m a bit late to the discussion, but I wanted to suggest a reason why we might think of C’s behaviour as “self-gaslighting”.

    You suggest (p. 19) that scepticism might be a morally inappropriate reaction to C’s original epistemic standard – since C’s standard is epistemically permissible – but that scepticism towards a permissible standard cannot always be morally inappropriate. For example, in the social anxiety case, the socially anxious person’s friend expresses her scepticism about her friend’s self-deprecating standard in a way that is morally permissible (and perhaps helpful!). In identifying the disanalogy between the sexual harassment and social anxiety cases, you highlight the importance of the sexist context, one upshot of which being that women are often criticized as e.g. “hysterical” or “crazy” despite employing reasonable epistemic standards. Against this backdrop, you argue, scepticism towards reasonable epistemic standards is morally inappropriate for two reasons: (i) it is unfair to have one’s standards labelled as e.g. “crazy” when they are in fact reasonable and (ii) it is especially unfair to be at a heightened risk of having one’s standards labelled in this way because of one’s gender.

    I completely agree that scepticism towards C’s original epistemic standard is morally inappropriate for both of these reasons. But I think there is a further way in which C is wronged by the expression of scepticism as you describe it in the paper. When her (imagined) interlocutors respond to C’s claim that she was sexually harassed, you suggest that they are liable to express their scepticism about her epistemic standard by asserting that C is “crazy” or “hysterical” for employing this standard. These assertions certainly communicate scepticism about the belief at hand, but I think the scepticism about C’s standards in the sexual harassment scenario is likely to bleed into scepticism concerning C’s epistemic standard-setting in general. Unless her interlocutors are extremely careful to assert that C is being “crazy” about the beach case – and the beach case alone – their context-unrelativised uses of e.g. “crazy” will cast doubt on C’s capacities as an epistemic agent *in general*: she’s generally off-track in how she structures epistemic inquiry. (I think this point comes across when you say that criticisms of the “crazy” kind “tend to reverberate widely, quickly eroding their target’s standing and credibility in her epistemic community”. But I wasn’t sure if you meant that the criticisms reverberate widely through the epistemic community – i.e. it travels on the grapevine that C has overreacted to an innocent man on the beach – or reverberate beyond the belief at hand to taint all of C’s past and future beliefs.) If their scepticism about C’s epistemic standard in the sexual harassment case serves to undermine her standing as an epistemic agent in general, this looks to me like a severe further wrong, beyond the unfairness of responding with gendered scepticism to a perfectly reasonable one-off standard. It also strikes me as a paradigm case of gaslighting: C’s sceptics “destroy the possibility of disagreement by so radically undermining [C] that she has nowhere left to stand from which to disagree, no standpoint from which her words might constitute genuine disagreement” (Abramson, 10).

    The idea that a gaslighting form of scepticism – casting doubt on a subject’s general reliability or standing by way of scepticism about their epistemic standards or beliefs – constitutes a further wrong, beyond the wrongs you identify concerning a more isolated scepticism, also comes out if we change the social anxiety case slightly. Were the socially anxious person’s friend to question her self-deprecating beliefs by saying “These thoughts are just coming from paranoia. You’re totally crazy for thinking this stuff”, I think the friend would be doing something morally inappropriate: she would be unfairly attacking her friend’s standard-setting capacity, going well beyond the appropriate domain of the self-deprecating belief at hand.

    I think it’s possible that in both of these cases – sexual harassment and social anxiety (the gaslighting version) – the holder of the belief might alter their epistemic standard in anticipation of, not only domain-specific scepticism but gaslighting scepticism. They might be afraid – and justifiably so – of having their epistemic standard criticised in such a way that they are made to doubt their very capacity for reliable standard-setting. If this is indeed what they are afraid of, and furnishes the motivation for them to pre-emptively alter their standards to avoid this unpleasant outcome, then I can see why we might call this “self-gaslighting”.

    As you argue, however, this might not be a useful term for this phenomenon, since in these cases the subject does not cast doubt on her own reliability/standing; she does not deceive herself. Rather, she rationally anticipates this doubt being cast and tries to accommodate her standards to it. Maybe “gaslighting preemption” is a better term for these cases?

    If you think this extra wrong is in play, I’d be interested to know if (and how) you think one-off scepticism and gaslighting scepticism might be disentangled in real-life interactions? It seems to me that against the backdrop of pervasive epistemic injustice – and given the problematic vocabulary we have for expressing scepticism about epistemic standards (“crazy”, “paranoid” etc.) – it is pretty rare for scepticism in cases like C’s not to blur into gaslighting.

    Thanks again for the paper!

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