chapter  16
14 Pages

When the Personal Becomes Political

How do We Fulfil Our Epistemic Duties Relative to the Use of Autobiographical Stories in Public Debates?
WithSophie Stammers, Lisa Bortolotti

In recent public debates, autobiographical or personally significant stories are offered not just as illustrations of a point, but as evidence for claims that are often central to the debated issues. Such stories are likely to influence the beliefs and actions of debate participants, shaping the subsequent development of the debates themselves. If agents have an epistemic duty to believe in accordance with the evidence, as is argued for by many in the philosophical literature (for instance, Scott Stapleford), then they have a duty to think carefully about the relation that holds between their evidence and the proposition they believe or they are considering whether to believe. This may be particularly challenging when the evidence is presented in the form of autobiographical or personally significant stories, because stories have multiple roles over and beyond providing evidence for a claim. By reference to social media debates on Brexit, this chapter shows that stories (a) are used as evidence to support broad political claims; (b) offer insights into the perspectives and concerns of debate participants; but (c) are unlikely to offer support for these claims in isolation from other forms of evidence.