Epistemic Injustice in Late-Stage Dementia: A Case for Non-Verbal Testimonial Injustice

Lucienne Spencer

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The literature on epistemic injustice has thus far confined the concept of testimonial injustice to speech expressions such as inquiring, discussing, deliberating, and, above all, telling. I propose that it is time to broaden the horizons of testimonial injustice to include a wider range of expressions. Controversially, the form of communication I have in mind is non-verbal expression. Non-verbal expression is a vital, though often overlooked, form of communication, particularly for people who have certain neurocognitive disorders. Dependency upon non-verbal expression is a common feature of some forms of neurocognitive disorders such as ‘intellectual disabilities’, autism and late-stage dementia. According to the narrow definition of testimonial injustice currently championed in the literature, people who express non-verbally are exempt from testimonial injustice. However, when we consider cases where meaningful communications from non-verbal people are dismissed or ignored in virtue of identity prejudice, there seems to be a distinct testimonial harm at play. Using late-stage dementia as a case study, I argue that the definition of testimonial injustice should be expanded to include all communicative practices, whether verbal or non-verbal, to encompass the epistemic harms inflicted upon some of the most marginalised in our society.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Epistemology
Early online date20 Sept 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Sept 2022


  • Epistemic Injustice
  • Testimonial Injustice
  • Dementia
  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Phenomenology


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