The wildly prolific novelist Benito Pérez Galdós began his literary career in the 1870s with a series of socially critical novels, sometimes collectively called the “novelas de tesis.” The novels vary in setting and primary themes, but they share a preoccupation with systemic social disadvantage of various kinds. In Doña Perfecta (1876), the social critique centers on which “ways of knowing” the apparently benighted inhabitants of the half-ruined cathedral town of Orbajosa prefer. In the eyes of the title character and the other big fish in Orbajosa’s small pond, the protagonist Pepe Rey’s city education and devotion to scientific, rational principles are actually disqualifications in their estimation of him as a moral agent. If the question for our analysis is, then, in what specific way is Pepe Rey wronged by the “ruling class” of Orbajosa, the virtue epistemologist Miranda Fricker’s concept of the “credibility deficit” can serve as a powerful hermeneutic tool. Virtue epistemology is a theory of knowledge that attaches important moral qualities to the ways in which knowers recognize each other as such, and what characteristics knowers require or impute to one another in order to qualify for such recognition. A knowing agent, then, can actually be wronged in his status as a knower by other members of a community of knowers, in a situation where their judgment of the wronged knower’s credibility is diminished by aspects of that knower’s identity (or history, etc.) that ought not have any bearing on that credibility. Galdós shows us in Doña Perfecta a social situation in which Pepe’s education and upbringing, which should clearly license him at least as a full, if not as a specially privileged, member of the epistemological community, in fact perversely disqualify him in that community’s eyes.
- Spanish Peninsular Studies