Who Speaks For You?

Sunday, July 21, 2024

What Is It

People often speak on behalf of others, like the concerned citizen who stands up for their neighbors at a city council meeting, or the activist who defends the rights of an oppressed group. Some of these spokespeople are elected, and some volunteer, but others simply get drafted into the role. What gives someone the right to speak on behalf of others? What responsibilities do they take on when they do? And how should the rest of us respond to what they say? Josh and Ray speak for themselves with their Stanford colleague Wendy Salkin, author of Speaking for Others: The Ethics of Informal Political Representation.



The Lorax  
I am the Lorax who speaks for the trees!

Josh Landy  
Coming up on Philosophy Talk...

Ray Briggs  
People often volunteer to speak on behalf of others.

Comments (5)

Chiaramandres's picture


Wednesday, July 10, 2024 -- 12:59 AM

1) A young, white woman,

1) A young, white woman, raised in liberal San Francisco, is on the diversity committee at a predominantly white workplace in rural Colorado. She recently told me she vocalizes minority issues (to the best of her ability) more frequently than the few Black/Hispanic committee members. She feels awkward doing so, but should she? Is her role to hold her tongue because she is "privileged" or to speak because she is "privileged?"

2) The arts play a vital role in spreading marginalized points of view. Can a white, female author of fiction write in a Black, male voice? Her horrified daughters say "NO!" But isn't the role of a writer to walk a mile in another's shoes? If so, what should be the constraints?

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Chiaramandres's picture


Wednesday, July 10, 2024 -- 11:56 PM

3) Please address Rob

3) Please address Rob Henderson's notion of "Luxury Beliefs - jdeas held by privileged people that make them look good but actually harm the marginalized." He believes movements like "Defund the Police" and "Decriminalize Drugs" are supported by educated elites, and not by the communities supposedly benefiting from them. He points his fingers at college protesters who "play the victim," focusing attention on themselves, while actually hurting the cause they try to promote.

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adammaurer's picture


Friday, July 12, 2024 -- 8:34 AM

A portion of these

A portion of these spokespersons are chosen through elections, while some voluntarily accept the position. pool paint nz

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Daniel's picture


Monday, July 15, 2024 -- 2:03 PM

First and most importantly,

First and most importantly, speaking on behalf of others and on one's own behalf are compatible goals. In expressions of advocacy for the elimination of the combustion of hydrocarbon resources, for example, one speaks on behalf of a generic beneficiary, which by definition includes those who oppose such recommendations, on account of its accurately foreseen results if followed. Similarly, if one opposes the majority's opinion in Trump v. United States (7/1/24), one speaks for the institution of constitutional law, even if some constitutional lawyers agree with it. Concerning advocacy on behalf of large groups independent of the diverse orientations of their members, then, justification of claims to represent them can not be determined by individual agreement with its contents, but by the accuracy of their sufficient correspondence. And this naturally raises the epistemic question of how the advocate knows what she or he is talking about, as well as whether or not it has to arise from human agency at all, as with the example of where advocacy for state distribution of cooling systems to low income citizens could be based on a computationally generated meteorological forecast which has been shown to be statistically far more accurate than current human capabilities for the same, but for which no account can be given of how the more accurate conclusion rather than the less was generated. The question can therefore be stated in general terms as: can an advocacy for some benefit for human beings be justifiably based on a statistical probability that it's not wrong, rather than on someone's account of the accuracy of the correspondence of its contents?

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Devon's picture


Wednesday, July 17, 2024 -- 11:39 AM

[Replies to Chiaramandres on

[Replies to Chiaramandres on behalf of Josh Landy]

These are great questions, Chiara! As a literature professor, I've been particularly interested in question 2. I'm not sure I've quite made up my mind yet on the question, but I've found the following statements, by authors of color, very interesting:

Aminatta Forna: “Literature is an imaginative art. To suggest that a writer cannot depict characters unlike themself is patently absurd. Books would have to be peopled with characters exactly like the author. In my case, they would all be Scottish/Sierra Leonian women, who would be required to travel to each other’s countries (presumably Scotland and Sierra Leone), fall in love with each other, betray each other, befriend each other and occasionally shoot each other.”

Zadie Smith: “what insults my soul is the idea—popular in the culture just now, and presented in widely variant degrees of complexity—that we can and should write only about people who are fundamentally ‘like’ us: racially, sexually, genetically, nationally, politically, personally. That only an intimate authorial autobiographical connection with a character can be the rightful basis of a fiction. I do not believe that. I could not have written a single one of my books if I did.”

Hari Kunzru: “Clearly, if writers were barred from creating characters with attributes that we do not ‘own’ (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on), fiction would be impossible. … Attempting to think one’s way into other subjectivities, other experiences, is an act of ethical urgency.”

So at least some authors agree with you—with apologies to your daughters!—that walking a mile in other shoes is not only acceptable but in fact morally *good*. Of course, I'm sure these authors would add that it's important to make sure the depictions are careful, avoiding stereotype, caricature, and bias. But they clearly don't agree with a blanket ban on the creation of characters occupying different subject positions.


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