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Epistemology Philosophy Essay On Virtue

Intellectual Virtues is a major contribution to the literature in "character-based" virtue epistemology.[1] It is the first book-length monograph on the topic to appear since the publication of Linda Zagzebski's groundbreaking work Virtues of the Mind over a decade ago. And in some ways, it is even more innovative than Zagzebski's book. The focus of the latter is a virtue-based analysis of knowledge, which Zagzebski argues has the resources for overcoming the Gettier problem, rebutting the skeptic, reconciling internalism and externalism, and more. As such, it is largely an attempt to engage and "solve" the problems of traditional or mainstream epistemology by appeal to the concept of intellectual virtue. Roberts and Wood have no such interest. While mainstream analytic epistemology is their starting point, and while its concepts and key players loom in the background throughout the book, they are interested in understanding the intellectual virtues and their role in the intellectual life considered in their own right -- independent of whatever bearing reflection on these traits may (or may not) have on more traditional epistemological pursuits. Thus their book departs even further than Zagzebski's from the status quo in epistemology.

Another important and highly distinctive feature of the book is alluded to in the subtitle. Drawing on some of Nicholas Wolterstorff's work (1996) on John Locke's epistemology, Roberts and Wood describe their methodology in the book as "regulative epistemology." They contrast this approach with "analytic epistemology," which "aims to produce theories of knowledge, rationality, warrant, justification, and so forth, and proceeds by attempting to define these terms" (20). Analytic epistemology, they say, is occupied with "concept regimentation" executed in a "monistic, reductive, hierarchical, or derivational style" (23). They argue that this method has generated numerous intractable debates and spawned theories that are "confusing and pedantic" (26). Regulative epistemology, by contrast, the ostensible forebears of which include Descartes and Locke, "tries to generate guidance for epistemic practice." It is "a response to perceived [perennial] deficiencies in people's conduct, and thus is strongly practical and social, rather than just an interesting challenge for philosophy professors and smart students. This kind of epistemology aims to change the (social) world" (21). A distinctive epistemological method indeed!

The primary medium of the sort of regulative epistemology that interests the authors is descriptive characterizations of "the habits of mind of the epistemically rational person" (22).[2] Accordingly, seven of the book's twelve chapters (Chs. 6-12) are comprised of detailed analyses of individual virtues (e.g. love of knowledge, firmness, humility, autonomy, etc.). But these chapters do not aim at specifying necessary and sufficient conditions for the traits in question. Nor are they driven primarily by any paradoxes or other logical problems that arise with attempts to understand these traits. Instead they aim at conceptual illumination and clarification; and they tend to highlight the richer, more concrete, and sometimes incidental features of excellent intellectual character. Roberts and Wood liken their approach to that of a cartographer:

Maps are pictures that are typically meant as guides to something or other. The present book means to represent the intellectual life in some of its conceptual messiness, and by virtue of this "realism" to function as a guide. We are particularly attentive to the character traits of the excellent epistemic agent. Our 'map' is pitched in that special way, and it is toward the virtues that it is especially designed to guide … Just as the cartographer can draw a map that highlights the railway system of a country, so in this book we want to map the intellectual virtues, without any pretension that they are the key or the foundation or the wellspring of everything intellectual. (27)

This approach may seem likely to strike many analytic epistemologists as off-putting or misguided, given their penchant for puzzles and paradoxes, conceptual derivations, formalized definitions, necessary and sufficient conditions, counterexamples, and the like. But two points are worth noting in response. First, the authors' "messier" and more particularistic characterizations seem entirely appropriate given their regulative aim. Attempts to formulate necessary and sufficient conditions for a philosophical concept can quickly become mired in technicalities and qualifications necessary for dealing with outlying cases, proposed counterexamples, and so forth (contemporary theories of epistemic justification are a case in point). Such formulations, while perhaps managing to capture the logical "essence" of the analysandum, often obfuscate some of its more familiar and concrete features -- including, perhaps, some of the features that might lead one to be interested in offering an analysis of the concept in the first place. As a result, these formulations are unlikely to function as a very good practical guide to the corresponding domain of cognitive excellence. (It does not follow, however, that the "formal definition" approach is philosophically problematic or defective -- see below.) Second, while the authors distinguish their approach from an "analytic" one, it is still analytic in a broad sense; and indeed, the book is likely to be of considerable interest to any analytic philosopher interested in better understanding the intellectual virtues and their role in a good intellectual life. The authors engage and draw a good deal from the epistemological and ethical literature in the analytic tradition. And the book contains many "conceptual proposals -- proposals about how epistemic and epistemic-moral concepts are related to one another, how virtues interact with and depend on one another, the varieties of intellectual goods and how they are connected with one another and with various virtues, the relations that virtues bear to human faculties and various epistemic practices" (26). Finally, the authors' profiles of individual virtues "constitute something like 'definitions'; at any rate, we aim, by way of our discussions, to make the concepts more definite in our minds" (ibid.). So for all that is distinctive about the book vis-à-vis analytic epistemology, it is still of a piece with this tradition.

The book is divided into two parts and twelve chapters. Part I (Chs. 1-5) situates the authors' subject matter within the landscape of contemporary epistemology (Ch. 1) and introduces several concepts crucial to the discussion in subsequent chapters. Chapter 2 enumerates various epistemic "goods" and the relations among them. Special attention is given to the goods of justification or "warrant," understanding, and acquaintance. Chapter 3 offers a rough sketch of what, in general, counts as an intellectual virtue. It focuses especially on the volitional and motivational elements of intellectual virtue. Chapter 4 examines the nature of cognitive faculties (e.g. vision, memory, introspection) and how excellences of intellectual character contribute to the proper functioning of these faculties. Drawing on some well-known work of Alasdair MacIntyre (1981), Chapter 5 introduces the notion of "intellectual practices" (e.g. observation, hypothesis testing, critical discussion, teaching, and reading) and of goods "internal" and "external" to such practices.

While largely aimed at setting up the discussion in Part II of the book, these chapters contain much that is interesting in its own right. Some highlights include: a discussion of the nature of understanding and its relation to propositional knowledge (42-50); an argument against a certain motivational requirement for intellectual virtue (71-80); and some very lively and engaging examples of how the intellectual virtues contribute to cognitive success (see, e.g., the extended discussion of Jane Goodall on pp. 143-48).

Roberts and Wood describe Part II (Chs. 6-12) of the book as "the heart of [their] study" (28). It consists of detailed analyses of the following traits: love of knowledge (Ch. 6); firmness (Ch. 7); courage and caution (Ch. 8); humility (Ch. 9); autonomy (Ch. 10); generosity (Ch. 11); and practical wisdom (Ch. 12). (As the names here suggest, the authors eschew a principled distinction between intellectual and moral virtues [60]. They prefer to talk instead of, say, generosity or humility per se. Their focus is the "intellectual virtues" in the sense that they are concerned with the ways in which the traits in question bear upon the acquisition and transmission of epistemic goods.)

The discussion in these chapters bears a close similarity to Aristotle's discussion of various moral virtues in Books III and IV of the Nicomachean Ethics. For each of the traits in question, the authors address the following sorts of questions: What are some of the distinguishing psychological ingredients of this virtue? What is it to manifest these ingredients in the right way, right amount, right time, and so forth? How is this virtue distinct from other, closely related virtues? Which intellectual vices correspond to this virtue? And how do they correspond? What are some of the systematic ways in which this virtue contributes to cognitive flourishing? Which epistemic goods does it deliver and how does it do so? Like Aristotle's treatment of moral virtues, the discussion in these chapters is engaging and intellectually satisfying. The chapters contain many subtle insights, illuminating reflections, and rich illustrations. Especially penetrating are the authors' intermittent discussions of the ways in which intellectual virtues and vices (perhaps especially the vices) pervade and shape life in the academy (see, e.g., the discussion of intellectual cowardice in academic departments on pp. 222-23). Other highlights include a discussion of various dimensions of epistemic value (155-64) and a rare account of practical wisdom and how it contributes to intellectual flourishing (Ch. 12). While at times the reader may find herself wishing that the authors would "go deeper" with respect to a particular issue or point, these chapters by and large have their intended effect: they serve to "build up" (30) or edify the reader by inspiring an interest in and admiration for the virtues in question.

In the space that remains, I will draw attention to three additional parts of the book, both with an eye to conveying more about its content and to offering some criticisms. My first point concerns one of the ways the authors attempt to motivate their preferred approach to epistemology. As indicated above, this strategy involves raising objections to more mainstream approaches. One such objection is that the standard epistemological concept of knowledge is an "abstraction" from knowledge itself (42; 55). It is not easy to pinpoint the complaint here; however, it seems to be that the pursuit of a formal definition of knowledge -- i.e. a specification of its necessary and sufficient conditions -- breeds narrow, abstract, and technical characterizations of the target concept. These characterizations, the objection goes, neglect various significant features or aspects of knowledge, and in doing so fail to reflect its richness.

As indicated earlier, I think Roberts and Wood are largely right about this. Thus I regard their more material and particularistic characterization of knowledge (Ch. 2) as a welcome addition to the literature. However, it is not clear why their argument really counts against the more standard approach to analyzing knowledge. Indeed, the authors appear to neglect a compelling and venerable motivation for this approach, treating it instead as a kind of aberration of late 20th century epistemology. Presumably what drives the attempt to specify the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge is a desire to get clear about the fundamental nature or essence of knowledge -- to specify what all instances of knowledge have in common that make them instances of knowledge. Surely this is a respectable intellectual motivation. It is, at any rate, an obviously and deeply Socratic one. Such analyses may tend toward abstraction and technicality, but to the extent that they are successful (and "success" here need not be understood in an all-or-nothing way), the payoff is significant. Moreover, their abstract character is (at least to some extent) to be expected: they are, after all, formal analyses, aimed at capturing in a precise way the very essence of knowledge. As this concern suggests, I am not inclined to think that Roberts and Wood score too many points against mainstream approaches to epistemology. I think a more plausible motivation for their view is simply its own internal theoretical richness and fecundity.[3]

A second worry concerns the authors' treatment of a "love of knowledge" as a discrete intellectual virtue. The authors' position here, as well as its implications for an account of the structure of an intellectual virtue, strikes me as awkward and problematic. On a more standard view (Zagzebski 1996; Montmarquet 2000), something like a love of truth or knowledge is a componentof an intellectual virtue -- not a virtue unto itself. Incidentally, Roberts and Wood say a considerable amount that favors this alternative model and at times even seem to embrace it. For instance, they regularly point out that a given trait of character counts as an intellectual virtue only where it is supported by a love of knowledge (219; 239-41; 250; 265; 284). And they describe a love of knowledge as standing in an "encompassing and fundamental relation to the other virtues" (284) and as a "presupposition or necessary background of all the other virtues" (305). But given this systematic and fundamental supporting relation between a love of knowledge and other intellectual virtues, why not think of the former an element of any intellectual virtue, rather than as a separate or discrete virtue? This suggestion is reinforced by the fact that the intentional object of a love of knowledge stands in something like a means-end relation to the (immediate) intentional objects of other virtues. The immediate aim of intellectual courage, for instance, is to persist in a belief or intellectual pursuit despite a perceived threat to one's well-being; and the immediate focus of intellectual generosity is the liberal giving of one's cognitive resources. But intuitively, an intellectually virtuous person persists in the face of a perceived threat or gives of her cognitive resources out of a love of knowledge or some related epistemic good; she pursues these immediate ends as a way of achieving such goods (goods which, as illustrated by the case of generosity, need not be "her own"). This is suggestive of a more standard two-tier analysis of the structure of an intellectual virtue endorsed by Zagzebski (1996) and others, according to which an intellectual virtue is (in part) a disposition to pursue certain immediate intellectual ends or goals for the sake of ends like truth, knowledge, or understanding. But again, on this model, a love of knowledge is part of any intellectual virtue; it is not a virtue in its own right. While the question of whether to understand a love of knowledge as a discrete virtue or as an element of any intellectual virtue may, at first glance, seem relatively insignificant, at stake is an understanding of the fundamental structure of an intellectual virtue.

A third concern has to do with the authors' claim that intellectual virtues are "indexed to world views" (318) or to moral or metaphysical "outlooks" (180). Call this the "relativity thesis," since the idea is that intellectual virtues are in some sense relative to moral and metaphysical traditions. On a weak reading of this thesis, the claim is simply that which traits are regarded as intellectual virtues can vary from one tradition to the next. This is uncontroversial. It is a function of the fact that beliefs about which traits are intellectual virtues depend in part upon prior beliefs about what is ultimately good or real. The authors point out, for instance, that a virtuous love of truth is not an indiscriminate love of any and every truth, but rather a love of "important" or "worthy" truths (157-60). But what counts as a worthy or important truth -- or what is thought to be true or views about the nature of truth itself -- is likely to vary from one metaphysical or moral tradition to another: "Truths that are of overriding importance for the Stoic may not even be truths in the Marxist's opinion; nor will the theist's most important, and thus organizing, truths be of much interest to Bertrand Russell" (180). The authors' own work is a good illustration of this point: their commitment to Christian theism shapes and informs their views about intellectual virtue throughout the book (see, e.g., their treatment of intellectual generosity on pp. 288-92 and intellectual humility on pp. 243-50).

But a stronger and more controversial interpretation of the relativity thesis is possible. And at times, Roberts and Wood seem tempted by it. This is the view that what counts as an intellectual virtue is tradition-relative, such that if (say) a given trait is regarded as an intellectual virtue within a certain tradition, then it is an intellectual virtue (at least for members of that tradition). The authors' (albeit limited) sympathy for this view is evident in their treatment of practical wisdom. They claim that in its application to the intellectual life, practical wisdom is "oriented on action and presupposes a love for genuine intellectual goods." They add that what counts as "genuine" here must be "relativized to outlook" and that "[w]ithin limits, [they] want to be able to attribute intellectual virtue to a person with a systematically distorted conception of the intellectual goods" (307; emphasis added). Implicit in this claim is the idea that a trait's status as a virtue might (largely) be a function of what the subscribers of a given tradition believe about the "intellectual goods" -- not the nature of the goods themselves or the truth of any beliefs about them. To use one of the authors' examples, it suggests that religious faith might be an intellectual virtue for the theists but not for thoroughgoing naturalists. This is markedly different from saying that theists, because of their metaphysical commitments, regard faith as a virtue while naturalists do not.

This stronger version of the relativity thesis is the equivalent of a kind of cultural relativism about morality. And like the latter, it has some pretty unpalatable consequences. Suppose, for instance, that one's metaphysical outlook were such that only trivial truths (or worse, only "immoral" truths or truths about especially wicked or heinous states of affairs) are worth knowing. Would we really want to describe a love of such knowledge as intellectually virtuous? Or suppose that one's view of truth or knowledge is such that one believes that things like crystal balls and tarot cards provide the most reliable access to it. Would we want to think of a disposition to seek the truth via these means as a genuine intellectual virtue? Presumably not.

In fairness to the authors, they do seem mainly to favor the weaker reading of the relativity thesis; and when they express sympathy for the stronger reading, they do so with some reservation (note the "within limits" qualification above). Nonetheless, it is unclear whether their view of intellectual virtue has the resources to support a qualified or "limited" acceptance of the stronger reading. It would have the resources if it included a certain "rationality constraint" on intellectual virtue (see Baehr 2007). In general terms, this is the view that a person's disposition to pursue a particular epistemic end E via a certain means or activity A is an intellectual virtue only if this person has good reason to believe that E is epistemically valuable and that A is a reliable means to E. By accepting this constraint, Roberts and Wood could handle the sorts of cases just noted, since presumably the person who pursues the truth via her crystal ball does not have good reason to think that this will get her to the truth, and since the person motivated by a love of trivial or immoral knowledge presumably does not have good reason to think that such knowledge really is worth pursuing. I suspect, however, that given their resistance to a "one-size-fits-all" analysis of the structure of intellectual virtue (79), the authors would resist this proposal, for doing so would require thinking of the relevant kind of rationality as a necessary feature of intellectual virtue. But without recourse to something like this requirement, it is unclear how they can avoid the slide into a radical relativism about intellectual virtue. 

The foregoing are relatively minor worries. Intellectual Virtues is undoubtedly a very rich, novel, and important contribution to the literature in character-based virtue epistemology; it is, in fact, the most important contribution in the last decade. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in virtue epistemology and it is sure to enjoy this status for many years to come.


Baehr, Jason. 2007. "On the Reliability of Moral and Intellectual Virtues," Metaphilosophy 38, pp. 457-71.

-----. 2006. "Character, Reliability, and Virtue Epistemology," The Philosophical Quarterly 56, pp. 193-212.

MacIntyre, Alisdair. 1981. After Virtue (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame UP).

Montmarquet, James. 2000. "An 'Internalist' Conception of Intellectual Virtue," in Knowledge, Belief, and Character, ed. Guy Axtell(Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield), pp. 135-48.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. 1996. John Locke and the Ethics of Belief (Cambridge: Cambridge UP).

Zagzebski, Linda. 1996. Virtues of the Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge UP).

[1] A "character-based" or "responsibilist" approach to virtue epistemology differs from that of a "faculty-based" or "reliabilist" approach. The central difference is that the former thinks of intellectual virtues as character traits like fair-mindedness and intellectual courage, while the latter conceives of intellectual virtues as reliable cognitive faculties like vision, memory, and introspection. See Baehr 2006 for a further account of the distinction.

[2] With Wolterstorff, the authors distinguish between "rule-oriented" (e.g. Descartes) and "habit-oriented" (e.g. Locke) varieties of regulative epistemology. Their concern is with the latter. 

[3] The foregoing is not the only argument Roberts and Wood offer against the traditional approach. They also point to (a) the apparent intractability of the Gettier problem (9-20) and (b) the plurality of epistemic desiderata (35-42) as spelling trouble for the traditional project of defining knowledge. But these considerations, even if taken as fact, arguably do little to undermine the real thrust of traditional epistemology. For even if (in light of the intractability of Gettier considerations, say) epistemologists were to give up trying to specify necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge, other epistemic desiderata remain that are amenable to the traditional methodology and questions. This includes, but is not limited to, the concept of good epistemic reasons or evidence. This notion is not susceptible to Gettier worries; yet questions about the nature, sources, and limits of good reasons or evidence are easy to motivate.

Knowledge, Truth, and Duty is a collection of fourteen essays by fourteen different authors. As the title indicates, the central topic is epistemic normativity and its relationship to the concepts of knowledge and justification, and to the twin goals of truth-seeking and error avoidance. The contributors are (in order of appearance): Susan Haack, Bruce Russell, Richard Fumerton, Carl Ginet, Richard Feldman, Robert Audi, Alvin Goldman, Matthias Steup, Marian David, Michael DePaul, Ernest Sosa, Noah Lemos, Vrinda Dalmiya, and Linda Zagzebski. With the exception of the papers of Haack, Goldman, and Sosa, these essays are making their print debut here. There is not space to adequately discuss each essay, so we will have to content ourselves with a quick description of each. After that I’ll take a closer look at one of the book’s central essays.

In her paper, “’The Ethics of Belief’ Reconsidered,” Susan Haack considers the relationship between epistemic and moral appraisal. After distinguishing five possible relationships between the two, Haack argues that the view that epistemic appraisal is but a subspecies of moral appraisal is false. For, Haack claims, if one’s evidence for p isn’t good enough, then one will be unjustified in believing that p. But a person “can’t be morally at fault in believing that p unless his belief is willfully induced” (p. 23). Yet that might not be the case; perhaps the person is intellectually deficient and cannot help but believe p even though his evidence does not support it—then his belief is epistemically unjustified but not morally permissible. Haack’s perspective on the relationship between epistemic and moral justification is captured in what she calls the “overlap thesis,” which says that there is a “partial overlap” and that “positive/negative epistemic appraisal is associated with positive/negative ethical appraisal” (p. 21). Her idea is that there are certain ways of being unjustified that bring along with them moral unjustifiedness. So a belief about, say, the current safety of my children that is formed on the basis of hasty generalization might well be both epistemically and morally unjustified. Believing in this way is a form of culpable ignorance.

Bruce Russell’s paper, “Epistemic and Moral Duty,” explores the same topic in a different way. Russell is concerned with the distinction between subjective and objective duty—moral and epistemic. Russell argues that knowledge requires the completion of both one’s objective and subjective epistemic duties. Borrowing from the work of Richard Feldman, Russell takes objective justification to require that the subject have good reason to believe the proposition in question; a subjectively justified belief is a belief that the person is blameless in holding. Russell uses this distinction to reply to examples of Alvin Plantinga’s in which a person has epistemically blameless true belief that is nevertheless not knowledge. These examples crucially involve a person’s holding a belief for which the subject lacks good reason. Russell takes these examples to show that objective justification is also necessary for knowledge. It is similar for beliefs for which the person allegedly has objective justification but lacks subjective justification.

Both Haack’s and Russell’s papers assume that epistemic appraisals are in some sense “normative.” But what is it for an appraisal to merit this appellation? This is the topic of Richard Fumerton’s paper, “Epistemic Justification and Normativity.” In the end, Fumerton can find no good sense of the term according to which epistemic judgments are normative. What’s the result of this? Fumerton claims that one potential implication is that epistemic internalists who criticize externalists for failing to fully appreciate epistemic normativity are off the mark (although Fumerton is sympathetic to other criticisms of internalists).

Part II of the book is entitled “Epistemic Deontology and Doxastic Voluntarism.” Carl Ginet’s fascinating paper, “Deciding to Believe,” kicks off this section. Ginet argues that while we lack direct control over a great many of our beliefs (i.e., that doxastic voluntarism is false regarding much of what we believe), there is a class of propositions that we can, in the right circumstances, come to believe “just by deciding to believe” them. The kind of case Ginet has in mind occurs when some doubt with respect to p comes up and one considers whether to believe that p, thinks that it would be better to believe p in these circumstances than to withhold p, and so decides to believe that p. To illustrate, Ginet offers the example of leaving home for vacation and then wondering whether the front door has been locked at the house. One might seem to remember doing it but not being completely sure. Nevertheless, given the hassle of driving the 50 miles back to one’s house, the good reason to think the door is locked, and the undesirability of worrying about it for the rest of the trip, one simply decides to believe the door is locked. Simultaneous with the decision is the forming of a disposition to “count on” p in deciding how to act in relevantly similar situations. Ginet recognizes that our having direct voluntary control in cases of this sort does little to motivate a general voluntarism of the sort that, for example, William Alston has argued against. Nevertheless, his article is noteworthy as a defense of even a rather restricted version of doxastic voluntarism.

No one has done more to defend the significance of epistemic deontologism against recent attacks than Richard Feldman. Here, in his paper, “Voluntary Belief and Epistemic Evaluation,” Feldman argues that a recent defense of doxastic voluntarism is flawed and that we lack the kind of control over our beliefs that we have over our actions, control that arguably is necessary for our actions to admit of deontological evaluation. However, Feldman argues that, as in the financial and legal domains, the “ought” of epistemology does not entail “can.” Just was we ought to repay our debt even if we are broke when the payment is due, so we ought to believe according to our evidence.

In “Doxastic Voluntarism and the Ethics of belief,” Robert Audi considers and then rejects arguments for two versions of doxastic voluntarism. Audi then considers the place for the ethics of belief in light of the failure of voluntarism. It turns out that there is a place for such an ethic but that the beliefs themselves are not the targets.

Alvin Goldman’s reprinted essay, “Internalism Exposed,” is the first paper of Part III, “Epistemic Deontology and the Internality of Justification.” Goldman is here interested in the motivation of internalism. The first rationale for internalism Goldman considers comes from what he calls the “guidance deontology” conception of justification. This is a long and rich essay that resists quick summarization. The bottom line is that Goldman finds internalism problematic because any way of construing “internal” that is sufficiently robust to guarantee that reliabilism is “external” has problems accounting for the justification of a whole range of beliefs—from stored beliefs, to beliefs originally justified by now-forgotten evidence, to beliefs about logical and probabilistic relations.

Editor Matthias Steup’s paper, “Epistemic Duty, Evidence, and Internality,” is a response to Goldman’s essay. Steup grants that the accessibility motivation for internalism leads to difficulties but argues one can motivate internalism by appeal to evidentialist principles. I shall have more to say about Steup’s defense of internalism at the end of this review.

Marian David’s paper, “Truth as the Epistemic Goal,” kicks off the fourth section, “Justification and Truth.” David’s paper is a thorough discussion of the relationship between justification and truth. In particular, David considers many possible variations on how to make explicit the “truth goal” (the goal of believing truth while avoiding error) spoken of by epistemologists of all stripes. In the end, David suggests a version of reliabilism that employs a subjunctive truth-goal (for every p, if S were to believe p, then p would be true, and if p were true, S would believe p) as the leading contender.

In “Value Monism in Epistemology,” Michael DePaul argues against the monism of his essay’s title. While some have claimed that truth is the only epistemic goal, DePaul claims that this can be seen to be wrong by considering that knowledge is better than mere true belief; true belief is be valued but not as much as knowledge is. There are, according to DePaul, a number of epistemic values—knowledge, truth, and justification to name a few.

Section V is “Epistemic Virtue and Criteria of Justified Belief.” These two papers seem somewhat thematically distant from their comrades. The first, Ernest Sosa’s reprinted “Reflective Knowledge in the Best Circles,” is concerned with, for example, how Descartes can noncircularly use what he clearly and distinctly perceives to show that God exists and thereby legitimize what is clearly and distinctly perceived. Sosa’s answer is the answer of the externalist: as long as the beliefs used in the proof arise from reliable (or “apt”) faculties they provide Descartes with non-reflective, animal knowledge. By using what we learn from our apt or virtuous faculties, we can achieve reflective knowledge by using our animal knowledge to construct explanations of how we know.

In “Commonsensism in Ethics and Epistemology,” Noah Lemos defends so-called “common sense” in both domains. He argues that beginning the epistemological enterprise with Moorean beliefs such as “I have two hands” is not objectionably parochial; furthermore, Lemos follows Sosa’s lead and argues that as long as these starter beliefs indeed have a positive epistemic status, they can ground our further beliefs—including our beliefs in epistemic principles.

The book’s final section focuses on virtue epistemology. Vrinda Dalmiya’s paper, “Knowing People,” takes its cue from virtue ethics and the method of care. While the notion of epistemic responsibility has a role to play, it is not simply the responsibility of standard deontological theories of justification. Rather the method of care centers the epistemic discussion on cultivating and reinforcing attitudes that are regarded as positive in the wider epistemic community.

Linda Zagzebski’s essay, “Recovering Understanding,” is an example of the way a virtue epistemologist evaluates and analyses an epistemic virtue. Citing the work of Plato and Aristotle on understanding, Zagzebski offers an account that takes understanding’s object to be structures of reality—that is, objects like pieces of art or buildings—rather than propositions that are the objects of knowledge. To understand is to comprehend these structures. Virtue epistemology, Zagzebski argues, is in a better position than non-virtue epistemology to give us workable accounts of subjects like understanding because the former but not the latter is able to accommodate both proposition and nonpropositional subjects.

If one is going to critically discuss a collection of essays in a short review, one will have to do so either by talking only abstractly about the collection as a whole or else by focusing on one particular essay. I shall do the latter. The remainder of this essay is a raises an objection to Steup’s reply to Goldman.

As mentioned above, Steup believes that one aspect of Goldman’s critique of internalism is correct: if the internalist starts with the accessibility constraint, she’ll run into problems. However, not all is lost for the internalist. She can instead motivate her view by adopting an evidentialist account of justification. Moreover, Steup argues, she can motivate her evidentialism by deontology. Steup notes that the relationship between the two is “complex” (p. 137) and that an adequate defense of it would be beyond the scope of his essay. He then gives a sketch of an argument that is prima facie problematic, but since Steup recognizes the sketchiness of his remarks on this score, I’ll not stop here to comment further.

What do we know about the sort of evidentialism that Steup prefers? Although he says rather little about the details, he makes two important theoretical points and then tells us a bit more when he responds to Goldman. Let’s look at these in turn.

Steup tells us that deontology leads to evidentialism. This is because no item can be that in virtue of which S is justified in holding a belief unless S is in “cognitive possession” of that item (p. 137), and the kinds of states that S possesses in the relevant sense are evidential states. So nothing is evidence for S that S does not possess.

The second theoretical point is that one need not have beliefs about what one’s duties are, still less beliefs about how one determines what one’s duty is. Saying he is taking a page from the externalist’s book, Steup maintains that justification requires only that a person has done her duty, not that she know she has done her duty or even be in a position to know it. “[A]ccording to evidentialism, having (undefeated) evidence for p is sufficient for being justified in believing that p. No further condition must be met” (p. 138). Now as it stands, this version of evidentialism would seem to have little to do with deontology. For as we learn a page later, Steup is willing to allow both stored and conscious beliefs to count as evidence. But then it looks as though if I have fifty beliefs that together entail p (and no set of 49 does), and I never put these beliefs together to see the entailment and am not being derelict in my failing to do this, I am nevertheless justified in believing p because I have undefeated (let us suppose) evidence for it. And this might be true even if my reason for believing p has nothing to do with my good evidence.

Let’s now take a look at how Steup’s internalism handles the problems that Goldman raises. The first Steup discusses is the problem of forgotten evidence. Suppose that Sally, an epistemically responsible person, believes that broccoli is good for her by reading it in the New York Times Science section. However, she later forgets where she read it and now only knows she believes it. Goldman claims that the person lacks an internal justification for her belief even though the belief is clearly justified and, if true, even counts as knowledge.

Steup replies that the evidentialist will argue that Sally does have evidence in this case: a memorial seeming. She seems to remember that broccoli is healthy; she also has a background belief that what she seems to remember is usually true. These comprise, Steup assures us, a good evidentialist justification for her broccoli belief. One point to raise here, it seems to me, concerns the epistemic status of stored beliefs. Steup allows these beliefs to play an evidentiary role in the justification of other beliefs. But in order for those beliefs to be justifiers, one would suppose, they must be justified themselves. So that should mean that stored beliefs, even when stored, are justified or unjustified. But then consider Sally’s broccoli belief before she remembers it, when there is no memorial seeming associated with it. One would suppose that if this belief will be justified when it becomes occurrent, it must be justified just before then. But then the justification of the belief doesn’t depend on the memorial seeming.

Be this as it may, Goldman foresees the move Steup makes and says that what this shows is that the kind of justification the internalist can get is not the sort that is crucial for knowledge. To see this, we should reconfigure the Sally case so that she initially forms the belief on the basis of what is known to be a bad source. So suppose also that she acquired this belief in a very unreliable way (and in a way she would take to be unreliable) and that she has not had the belief corroborated in the meantime by trustworthy sources. As with the original case, she doesn’t now remember where she came by the belief; she’s forgotten her source. Yet she has a memorial seeming and knows that she is a responsible believer who generally comes to her beliefs via reliable sources. Goldman claims that Sally is unjustified in her belief in the sense of justification that “carries a true belief a good distance toward knowledge” (Goldman, p 121). Steup rightly takes Goldman’s point here to signal a significant theoretical divide between them. Indeed, I think that this gulf generally exists between internalists and externalists about justification. The externalist and internalist will agree that knowledge requires justified true belief that also satisfies a fourth anti-Gettier condition. They will disagree, however, about how much work the fourth condition does. Traditionally, it has been the condition called on to show why Gettier cases are not instances of knowledge. Consider the following: suppose this were a world in which the demon is very effective at leading you into falsity but in which he screws up once and, quite fortuitously, you believe something true. Let this be a belief that we would typically count as justified—perhaps it is a standard perceptual belief. Is this a Gettier case? If you think it is, then you are likely an internalist who thinks that the fourth condition of knowledge has a lot of work to do. On the other hand, the externalist will typically say that there are no Gettier cases at demon worlds. Getting back to Sally, Goldman believes that the kind of justification that “carries true belief a good distance toward knowledge” is not had in a demon world; Steup and other internalists deny this. Is there any way of adjudicating this dispute without undertaking a general evaluation of the internalism/externalism controversy?

I believe there is. I think there is a rather sizable problem for Steup here; a problem that indicates that deontology and his brand of evidentialism might not rest together as well as he thinks. First, let’s consider the second Sally case from the perspective of deontology; and to do this, let’s consider a point in moral theory. As St. Anselm showed in Cur Deus Homo, the “ought implies can” principle fails when one is culpable for one’s inability to do what one ought. I promise to pay you back tomorrow the $100 I borrowed last week. In the meantime I’ve spent my entire paycheck on CDs, books, and beer; I have only $10 until my next paycheck in two weeks. I now cannot pay you tomorrow. Does that mean that I’m no longer have an obligation and hence will not be culpable for failing to pay? Of course not. My inability to pay today is explained by my earlier misdeed. There may a synchronic notion of doing one’s duty according to which as long as I’m doing the best I can now I am justified in acting as I do, but this is surely not the currency that standard moral evaluations trade in. We expect better of each other. Now I think that the epistemic deontologist should say the same regarding Sally. Sure, given that she believed irresponsibly in the first place and has since forgotten the ground of her belief, there is a synchronic sense of doing one’s epistemic duty in which her current believing is nonculpable. Yet since were it not for her earlier misdeed (believing irresponsibly) Sally wouldn’t now have the broccoli belief, and since all that has happened in the meantime is that Sally has forgotten the source of her belief (hardly an off-setting epistemic virtue), Sally must be judged to not have done her (diachronic) duty in believing as she does.

This result is doubly problematic for Steup. First, these considerations suggest that even if we are thinking of a deontological, internalist sense of justification, we should side with Goldman and say that Sally is unjustified. Second, and more significantly, the above considerations suggest that deontological considerations get on rather poorly with evidentialism. For what I’ve been arguing about the deontological evaluation of Sally’s belief is independent of considerations of the quality of her evidence. What seems clear from Steup’s sketch of evidentialism is that it is a synchronic theory: whether or not one is justified at t depends upon one’s evidence at t; and one’s evidence at t depends only on what’s happening at t. Here then is the big problem: deontological considerations generate a diachronic concept of justification but evidentialist considerations of the sort highlighted by Steup lead to a synchronic notion.

Despite its problems, Steup’s paper is a good read; it advances the internalism/externalism debate by showing that there are conceptual resources for resisting at least some of Goldman’s conclusions. (If evidentialism is unshackled from deontology there might well be sufficient resources for responding to Goldman). In addition to the Steup essay, of the previously unpublished essays, I found those of Ginet, David, Fumerton, and Feldman to be particularly thought provoking and insightful; but the overall quality of the papers is high. Knowledge, Truth, and Duty is well worth the time of any epistemologist.

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