On 1st September 2023, Kathleen Murphy-Hollies will join EPIC as a Research Fellow based in the Philosophy Department at the University of Birmingham. We asked her a few questions to get to know her better.
Hi Kathleen! What are your main research interests?
Hello! My PhD project looks at the impact of self-concepts and self-narratives on our behaviour, and in particular, our ability to embody moral virtues. In confabulation, for example, we assign certain motivations and ascriptions to ourselves which aren’t accurate.
Confabulations may misconstrue the details of the circumstances and not capture what really drove our behaviour. But despite this, flawed self-ascriptions can drive future behaviour to be in-line with the ascribed motivations, thus improving behaviour and making those idealistic self-ascriptions true over time.
So in general, I’m interested in labelling effects and how perceiving ourselves in a certain way affects how we are. I see this as a very dynamic and social phenomenon, in which we negotiate our self-concepts with others by drawing on their feedback and insights into the nature of our own behaviour. I see these processes also as a perfectly legitimate route to developing virtue and maturing ethical behaviour.
Why do you think it is important to study epistemic injustice in healthcare?
In my research, I place a lot of emphasis on the input of the people around us on the formation of our own identities. I think that these social negotiations can go better or worse and that it’s important to get them right. In healthcare interactions, these negotiations with others to attempt to better understand ourselves take place overtly, which also makes explicit how important it is to get right.
Not giving due credit and weight to the inner experiences and desires of an agent who seeks to understand their behaviour better – the patient, in these cases – is one way in which these negotiations seriously fail to be fruitful. It also, of course, greatly harms the patient and damages the relationship that they have with their healthcare provider, who has a lot of power in this exchange.
It is important to tackle structural barriers such as belonging to a marginalised social group, which stops people being truly heard when recounting experiences which may be confusing and painful. Addressing these problems will safeguard patient wellbeing and enhance the quality of healthcare.
What are you working on right now?
At the moment, I am writing about how claims about conspiracy theories may be driven by a desire to express and demonstrate certain treasured self-concepts, rather than by attempts to have accurate explanations of the world. This explains some findings about adoption of conspiracy theories and their bizarre features.
The social negotiations in this context are set very broadly, across entire cultures, and I’m starting to look at closer, more intimate relationships. In these kinds of relationships, each member has particularly powerful influence on shaping the identity of the other. I hope that this will highlight useful and important dynamics to be aware of in the patient-provider relationship, in order to avoid epistemic injustice there.