Art-interpretive injustice

My paper “Popular music and Art-interpretive Injustice”, co-authored with Evan Malone, is now accepted and forthcoming in Inquiry.

The paper was the result of a sort of ping-pong between Evan and me. In Fall 2021, I was thinking about cover songs and meeting with him every week about his thesis. I noticed that artists who record covers often talk about wanting to do justice to the original; similarly, artists who compliment covers of their own work will often say that the cover does justice to the song. This is not obviously justice in an ordinary political sense, but does suggest that they all have something normative in mind. Evan and I discussed that at some length, but couldn’t make anything workable out of it.1

He kept mulling it over, just from the perverse impulse that it would be cool to write about some distinctively aesthetic justice. In Spring 2022, he had a rough draft. One central example in his draft was the use of rap lyrics as evidence in court, which is a hot topic nowadays. That same semester, I was teaching epistemology and so was thinking about epistemic injustice— a concept labeled and famously championed by Miranda Fricker. So I saw ways that his aesthetic injustices could be seen as similar to but not quite the same as epistemic injustices.

A back and forth ensued. We both did more reading. Especially since Fricker, as we admit in the paper, there are lots of philosophical terms that take the form “some adjective injustice.”

One discovery was that the label “aesthetic injustice” had already been used in the literature to name something besides our target of interest.2 So we settled on art-interpretive injustice.

ABSTRACT: It has been over two decades since Miranda Fricker labeled epistemic injustice, in which an agent is wronged in their capacity as a knower. The philosophical literature has proliferated with variants and related concepts. By considering cases in popular music, we argue that it is worth distinguishing a parallel phenomenon of art-interpretive injustice, in which an agent is wronged in their creative capacity as a possible artist. In section 1, we consider the prosecutorial use of rap lyrics in court as a central case of this injustice. In section 2, we distinguish art-interpretive injustice from other categories already discussed in recent literature. In section 3, we discuss the relationship between genre discourse and identity prejudice. The case for recognizing the category of art-interpretive injustice is that it allows one to recognize a class of harms as being importantly related in ways that one would otherwise overlook.

A man browses at a German record store.
Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F079073-0006 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
  1. Although other discussions led to a paper on the ethics of covers, the concept of justice does not really figure into it. That paper is still out under review.
  2. Recently by Gustavo Dalaqua to name something that’s a bit like our target, and years ago by Monroe Beardsley to name something completely different.

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