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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Zagzebski on the Value of Knowledge

In her paper “The Source for the Epistemic Good” Linda Zagzebski attempts a solution to what she calls the “value problem”—the problem of accounting for how it is that knowledge is more valuable than true belief. She claims that “if knowing a proposition is more desirable than truly believing it, it is because it is more desirable to believe in an admirable way” (Pritchard and Brady, 26). Believing a true proposition in an admirable way amounts to a way in which the agent gets credit for believing the true proposition; this credit is earned when the agent arrives at the true belief because of her virtuous intellectual acts motivated by a love of truth (25).
Her solution looks strong in comparison to what she convincingly shows to be bad approaches (i.e. the machine-product approach). However, while reading through this, I couldn’t help but to wonder how she would account for knowledge of tautologies (i.e., from now on, the law of non-contradiction) as being more valuable than true belief in this law. Believing that ~(p and ~p) seems to be of the sort that couldn’t be believed because of intellectually virtuous inquiry. For what sort of person could possess intellectual virtue to the extent that she could inquire into whether the law of non-contradiction holds prior to knowing that it holds? Put another way, how could one virtuously inquire whilst not already knowing the law of non-contradiction?

The problem I offer can be stated as:

1. An agent’s knowing that ~(p and ~p) is more valuable than her merely truly believing it only if the agent believes the true proposition in an admirable way.
2. It is not possible to believe ~(p and ~p) in an admirable way.
3. Therefore, knowledge of ~(p and ~p) is not more valuable than true belief in ~(p and ~p).

I’ll anticipate some responses:

First, she might just flat deny that the law of non-contradiction cannot be reached in an admirable way. However, I’d be prepared to say that it could also be reached not in an admirable way (for instance, by someone who hates being bound by logical truths, and hates the fact that the law of non-contradiction is obvious to him). It seems funny to say that the truth-hater’s knowledge of ~(p and ~) is not more valuable than merely true belief whereas the intellectually virtuous agent’s knowledge of ~(p and ~p) is more valuable than her true belief in it. This route isn’t promising, and it could only be pursued if we grant the (I think implausible) assumption that truth in the law of non-contradiction can be reached through virtuous inquiry.

Another response she might have: She could deny that knowledge in the law of non-contradiction is more valuable than true belief in it. This might be more promising (at least more so than the other suggestion). However, she would then only have a conditional solution to the value problem, in the sense that her position explains the value of knowledge to true belief only if the propositional content of the belief is not tautologous.

Another possibility is that I am missing something here and not being fair to Zagzebski’s view with this criticism…

Any thoughts would be welcome!

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