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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

More on Driver, the Virtue Conflation Problem and Epistemic Egoism

I’ve been thinking about the distinction between intellectual and moral virtues at the level of value-conferring property. Julia Driver has argued in her paper “The Conflation of Moral and Epistemic Virtue” that what distinguishes moral and intellectual virtues is a matter of what good are produced by these respective virtues, as opposed to (for example) the ends toward which the respected virtues are motivated. And so, Driver employs a consequentialist account in an effort to distinguish between the virtues. On the surface of it, I don’t see anything implausible about employing a consequentialist account here. Driver makes a thorough case for a consequentialist account of virtue, in general, in her 2001 monograph “Uneasy Virtue”. What I am concerned about, though, is whether her consequentialist distinction between moral and intellectual virtues at the level of value-conferring property is one that should posit that intellectual virtues are valuable for the reason that they produce epistemic good (i.e. knowledge, truth) for the agent. This is problematic, I think, because it allows for someone who cares only about gaining truth for himself (and not maximizing epistemic value in general) to qualify as intellectually virtuous. Hence, Driver’s account of what makes an intellectual virtue valuable is one that condones unbridled epistemic egoism. I offer the following example to illustrate this:

Unlike his brother Ebeneezer, who values monetary goods and misers them, Ludwig Scrooge values doxastic goods. Ludwig believes that knowledge and true belief are valuable. Also, because not everyone has access to all facts, and because some individuals have faulty cognitive equipment, not everyone enjoys a surfeit of these goods. Ludwig is aware of this fact, and determines that if he can acquire more of this good than others, then he will be better off. Ludwig, following this reasoning, embraces the view of epistemic egoism: (as David Gauthier puts it) Ludwig is “…a person who on every occasion and in every respect acts to bring about as much as possible of what he values .” He realizes that there are two ways for maximize what he values: he can maximize knowledge and truth simpliciter, or he can maximize them for himself only. As it stands, Ludwig has no desire to see anyone else but himself attain doxastic goods. And, in fact, he reasons: “If there is some stranger who could, at some time t, acquire some truth N such that I would never gain from it, then I would prefer that that stranger did not acquire N, but rather, some falsehood instead. This would make me better off.”
Just as Ludwig’s brother Ebeneezer became adept with the skills of profiting as a result of desiring his personal monetary gain, Ludwig has cultivated the skills of profiting as a result of desiring what is epistemically valuable for himself. For example, he is intellectually tenacious in forming his beliefs, he is shrewd in his calculation of evidence, he is conscious to recognize his own biases that might affect his belief-forming processes, etc. In addition to possessing these characteristics, Ludwig also has developed a habit of keeping quiet when others want to know information that he knows. He concludes that his goal of maximizing personal epistemic value is better achieved by his deceiving others into thinking he lacks knowledge of some fact, rather than sharing this fact. “I don’t know” Ludwig will say, for example, when someone who wishes to know the way to town questions him, and he knows. (Note: this strategy is shared in the monetary domain by Ebeneezer, who deceives others into thinking he has no money when they ask to borrow it, and whilst he has plenty in his pocket). Ebeneezer becomes the wealthiest man in town through his tactics, and Ludwig becomes the most knowledgeable. Ebeneezer, though wealthy, surely is not morally virtuous. Is Ludwig, though knowledgeable, intellectually virtuous?

I think the answer we should reach is “no.” (I’m at work on a paper in which I’m arguing this).
I’m interested get some intuitions on this…


Anonymous Jason Kawall said...

I'm not sure of the etiquette of this, but... I have a paper that might be at least somewhat relevant to the issue you're discussing in this post (esp. the Ludwig case):
Jason Kawall, "Other-Regarding Epistemic Virtues", Ratio 15:3 (2002), 257-75.
Certainly an interesting question, in any case - I'd be interested to see where you end up on it! Jason

4:06 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its interesting that you divide Driver's consequentialist account of the nature of the virtues, from her account of the value of the virtues, accepting the one but criticizing the other. It's natural to make the same division of "nature of" and "value of" questions and to apply it to the virtues themselves. But I posit what I call "ensembles," containing an answer to each of these questions. The "Reliabilist-Instrumentalist Ensemble" is what we find clearly in Goldman, and in Driver as well. Its difficult to think whether one could have a reliabilist account of the nature of the virtues, but a different account of their value, but perhaps this is possible. What seems difficult is to maintain what seems right about a competency conception of knowing, akin to Sosa and Greco, but combined with what seems right about the "personal worth" conception of the value of the virtues, as we find in responsibilist and neo-Aristotelian VE.

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