Why epistemic justice matters in and for education

  • Melanie WalkerEmail author


The paper considers the importance of epistemic justice in democratic life, and the significance of education as a key space to foster the relevant epistemic capabilities. Epistemic in/justice offers resources to think about conditions of possibility (what Amartya Sen calls ‘conversion factors’), given that societies train our sensibilities in ways which are flawed and prejudiced. It is proposed further that Amartya Sen’s emphasis on public reasoning is central to epistemic justice. Using the space of education to make the argument, core ideas in the capability approach are first outlined. Epistemic justice is described, and the claim is then advanced that Miranda Fricker’s ‘epistemic contribution capability’ is generative in education settings for developing democratic and public reasoning capabilities. To be fully involved in learning and development and fair-achieved outcomes in formal education, students would need opportunities to develop their epistemic capability of being able both to receive information and to make interpretive contributions to the common pool of knowledge, understanding, and practical deliberation. Conditions of respect, recognition and equal moral worth would be required so that all students should have access to the capability and to have their contributions taken up as integral to their flourishing. Thus, in universities and schools, epistemic virtues should be educated, trained, developed and scaffolded pedagogically, including cultivating emotions. The paper then considers the challenge of free speech and what this may demand of us educationally.


Capabilities Human capital Epistemic justice Freedom of speech 



My thanks go to the referees and the Special Issue editors for their helpful advice, to Monica McLean for first drawing Fricker’s epistemic capability to my attention, and to the National Research Foundation Grant Number 86450 which supports my research on education and human development. An earlier version of this paper was presented as a keynote address at the 19th International Conference on Education Research held in the Seoul National University—17–19 October 2018.


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Copyright information

© Education Research Institute, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University the Free StateBloemfonteinSouth Africa

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