About Dr. McKinnon

A Welcome Message

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the College of Charleston.

My primary research focuses on the relationship between knowledge and action. Specifically, much of my research currently focuses on the norms of assertion. I aim to explicate the epistemic dimensions of what we assert to each other, and the relevant norms potentially governing the practice. This work includes working on how to properly evaluate performances such as placing wagers, shooting an arrow, and making decisions. It also includes work on the nature of luck and its role in our evaluations of performances. In addition to a number of projects, I'm currently working on finishing my first book, which focuses on advancing my views on the norms of assertion.

I also work on a variety of issues in feminism and feminist philosophy, particularly issues relating to gender and queer identities. Some of my current work deals with problems that I see with allies and ally culture, and how these connect to gaslighting and epistemic injustice. I also work on issues arising from stereotype threat and attributional ambiguity for trans-identified women.

Top News

My book The Norms of Assertion is now under contract with Palgrave Macmillan, as part of their Innovations in Philosophy series.

The expected release date is early 2015.


A topic of lively debate in contemporary epistemology and philosophy of language is what norms might govern our linguistic practice of asserting. Suppose that you ask me what time an upcoming meeting starts, and I say, "4 p.m." I've just asserted that the meeting starts at 4 p.m. Whenever we make claims like this, we're asserting. The central question here is whether we need to know what we say, and, relatedly, whether what we assert must be true. If the meeting is really at 3:30 p.m., you'll be late, and probably rather upset that I told you the wrong time. In some sense, it seems like I'm on the hook for having said something false. This sense that I've done something wrong suggests that there are certain standards of evaluating assertions: a way of distinguishing between good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate. We call these standards norms. And so the debate about what, if any, norms govern the linguistic practice of assertion is known as the norms of assertion debate. When one's assertion satisfies the norm, we say that the assertion is warranted.

This book is about the norms of assertion. Various philosophers have typically attempted to articulate the level of epistemic support required for properly asserting. Some argue, for example, that one must know what one asserts. Others argue that one merely needs to justifiably believe what one asserts—an epistemic standing weaker than knowledge. The purpose of this book is to defend what I propose as the central norm governing our practice of assertion, which I call the Supportive Reasons Norm (SRN). Here's what it looks like:

  1. One may assert that p only if one has adequate supportive reasons for p,
  2. The relevant conventional and pragmatic elements of the context of assertion are present.
  3. One asserts that p at least in part because the assertion that p satisfies (i) and (ii).

In rough outline, the standards for warrantedly asserting shift with changes in context, although knowledge is never required for warrantedly asserting. In fact, in some special contexts, speakers may warrantedly lie. This latter feature particularly sets apart my view from others in the debate.

I've been invited to contribute a paper to the Routledge Handbook on Epistemic Injustice, edited by Gaile Pohlhaus, Ian James Kidd, and José Medina.

I'll be writing on how gaslighting behavior is a manifestation of epistemic injustice. My paper is tentatively titled, "Gaslighting as Epistemic Injustice."

I've been invited to contribute a paper to the Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism, edited by Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa.

I'll be writing on whether, and the extent to which, contextualism matters to epistemology. My paper is tentatively titled, "Does Contextualism Matter to Epistemology? It depends."

My paper You Make Your Own Luck is now published in Metaphilosophy. It will be reprinted in a book forthcoming by Routledge.

Abstract: In this paper, I take up two questions. First, what does it mean to say that someone creates their own luck? At least colloquially speaking, luck is conceived as something out of an agent's control. So how could an agent increase or decrease the likelihood that they'll be lucky? Building on some recent work on the metaphysics of luck, I'll argue that there is a sense in which agents can create their own luck. Second, what implications does this conception of luck have for related topics such as how we evaluate performances (like shooting an arrow), including coming to know something? The ubiquitous presence of luck in our actions is often under-appreciated. I'll argue that we need a more nuanced view of how luck sometimes undermines credit for success in agents' actions. The upshot of my view is that while luck may undermine the creditworthiness of an agent's success, it only partially undermines creditworthiness.

I presented this paper as part of the Department of Philosophy Speaker Series at the University of Calgary on April 11th, 2014. Here's a video of the talk.

In March 2014, I spoke as one of the keynote speakers at the Rice University
Workshop on (Lack of) Diversity in Philosophy
, held by the Department of Philosophy

The day-long workshop was on March 21st, 2014. My talk was titled, "'Allies,' Active Bystanders, and Gaslighting."

I presented a shorter version of this same talk at the Gender and Sexual Diversity Symposium at the University of Calgary, on March 29th.

I also presented the shorter version of this talk at the 2014 meeting of the Canadian Society for the Study of Practical Ethics held in conjunction with the Congress of the Humanities at Brock University.

Abstract: In a recent blog post, Mia McKenzie convincingly argues for the end of the term and concept of "allies." Like her, I'm done with allies. In this talk, I raise some ways in which ally culture has resulted in a number of very serious problems for those that "allies" seek to support. Drawing on real-life examples, I connect ally culture to a lack of accountability and a worrying prevalence of gaslighting, which is a kind of epistemic injustice. In its place, I suggest that we focus on people being good active bystanders, "currently operating in solidarity with" those they seek to support, as McKenzie puts it.

Here are two pictures from the Rice University keynote:
Portriat of Dr. Rachel V McKinnon, Assistant Professor in Philosophy at College of Charleston, Keynote Address at Rice University, 'Allies,' Active Bystanders, and Gaslighting

Portriat of Dr. Rachel V McKinnon, Assistant Professor in Philosophy at College of Charleston, Keynote Address at Rice University, 'Allies,' Active Bystanders, and Gaslighting

I am contributing a paper to the forthcoming Bioshock and Philosophy book in the Blackwell Popular Philosophy Series. My paper is titled, "Propaganda, Lies, and Bullshit in Bioshock."

Abstract: Bioshock is replete with propaganda and lies. Most of us associate this sort of behavior with dishonest governments attempting to control their citizens' behavior, including their thoughts. Often the most perverse propaganda is successful precisely because it convinces its audience of things that they wouldn't otherwise believe, and often against their own interests. But what is it about such speech that makes it morally problematic? Moreover, what difference, if any, is there between propaganda, lies, and bullshit? In this chapter, I suggest that propaganda is more closely associated with bullshitting than lying.

I've been awarded a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship.

I've been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSRHC), which I took up beginning in May 2013 at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calgary. The fellowship is meant to help with my research on extending my analyses of the norms of assertion into a parallel debate on the norms of practical reasoning. This is a natural extension of my work, and it builds on some publications, such as my most recent papers in Logos and Episteme and Metaphilosophy. In broad outline, I think that reasons motivating rejecting a knowledge norm of assertion will also work for rejecting a knowledge norm of practical reasoning. And while there are a number of people taking the view that the norms of practical reasoning parallel those of the norms of assertion, I don't think that this is the case.

During my time at the University of Calgary, I also taught an undergraduate/graduate split course (PHIL 561/661) in the Winter 2014 term on my first book, tentatively titled The Norms of Assertion.

Here's a picture of me working at my makeshift standing desk:
Portriat of Dr. Rachel V McKinnon, Assistant Professor in Philosophy at College of Charleston

My paper Stereotype Threat and Attributional Ambiguity for Trans Women is now forthcoming in Hypatia

Abstract: In this paper I discuss the interrelated topics of stereotype threat and attributional ambiguity as they relate to gender and gender identity. The former has become an emerging topic in feminist philosophy and has spawned a tremendous amount of research in social psychology and elsewhere. But the discussion, at least in how it connects to gender, is incomplete: the focus is only on cisgender women and their experiences. By considering trans women's experiences of stereotype threat and attributional ambiguity, we gain a deeper understanding of the phenomena, and their problematic effects.

My paper Lotteries, Knowledge, and Irrelevant Alternatives is now published in Dialogue

Abstract: The lottery paradox plays an important role in arguments for various norms of assertion. Why is it that, prior to information on the results of a draw, assertions such as "My ticket lost" seem inappropriate? This paper is composed of two projects. First, I articulate a number of problems arising from Williamson's analysis of the lottery paradox. Second, I propose a relevant alternatives theory, which I call the Non-Destabilizing Alternatives Theory (NDAT), that better explains the pathology of asserting lottery propositions, while permitting assertions of what I call fallible propositions such as "My car is in the driveway."

My paper with Mathieu Doucet This Paper Took Too Long to Write: A Puzzle About Overcoming Weakness of Will is now forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology

Abstract: The most discussed puzzle about weakness of will (WoW) is how it is possible: how can a person freely and intentionally perform actions that she judges she ought not perform, or that she has resolved not to perform? In this paper, we are concerned with a much less discussed puzzle about WoW: how is overcoming it possible? We explain some of the ways in which previously weak-willed agents manage to overcome their weakness. Some of these are relatively straightforward: as agents learns of the real costs of weakness, or as those costs mount dramatically, they can become strongly motivated to do what they already judged best. But other cases are more difficult to explain: sometimes, agents with a long history of forming and then weakly abandoning resolutions manage to stick to their guns. We argue that these cases can be explained by combining George Ainslie's model of agents as multiple preference orderings competing in game theoretic interactions along with the insights of evolutionary game theory. This can explain the puzzling cases where agents suddenly adopt successful strategies for avoiding weak-willed behavior, especially where agents gain no new information about themselves or the consequences of their actions.

My paper Getting Luck Properly Under Control is now published in Metaphilosophy

Abstract: In this paper I propose a new account of luck and how luck impacts attributions of credit for agents' actions. I propose an analogy with the expected value of a series of wagers and argue that luck is what we call the difference between actual outcomes and expected value. The upshot of my argument is that when considering the interplay of intention, chance, outcomes, skill, and actions, we ought to be more parsimonious in our attributions of credit when exercising a skill and obtaining successful outcomes, and more generous in our attributions of credit when exercising a skill but obtaining unsuccessful outcomes. Furthermore, I will argue that when agents skillfully perform an action, they deserve the same amount of credit whether their action is successful or unsuccessful in achieving the goal.

I attended the Workshop for Pre-Tenure Women in Philosophy as a mentee in the Epistemology Group

Information about the workshop can be found here