A forum for VE lucubration

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Virtue, Credit and the Lackey Case

Firstly, sorry for the abeyance in posting.

One benefit of virtue-theoretic approaches to epistemology is that they have unique resources for explaining what makes knowledge more valuable than mere true belief, or any proper subset of (knowledge's) parts. The unique resource can be understood first by considering that successes through exhibition of virtues are creditable to the agent exhibiting the virtue. If we grant that achievements (successes through abilities) in general are valuable, and that knowledge is a type of cognitive achievement creditable to the agent, then we appear apt to answering the Meno Problem: we say that knowledge is more valuable than mere true belief or any proper subset of its parts by virtue of having the 'final value' that accrues to achievements. As Greco points out, if an agent forms a true belief in conjunction with displaying intellectual virtue, it would not necessarily follow that the agent knows. What is also importantly needed is that the success be 'because of' or 'through' the intellectual virtue. And so, on the 'final value' response to the Meno Problem, the 'because of' is especially important.

One of the toughtest parts of defending the 'final value' solution to the Meno Problem is the fact that the 'because of' relation is a particularly messy one to delineate. Greco rolls up his sleves to explain the 'because of'; he provides a carefully thought through account that makes recourse to the requirement that the exhibition of intellectual virtue be explanatorily salient in a causal explanation for why the agent came to form the true belief. Ernie Sosa, on the other hand, (at least, in a recent conversation) takes it that the 'because of' relation is one that, like Greco, should be understood as function of salience, but unlike Greco, Sosa takes it that what is salient should be intuitive, and so does not find it necessary to provide an account of the conditions under which the exhibition of virtue is salient in cases of knowledge.

Any defense of the final value solution worth its salt will have to get the 'because of' relation right. That much is clear.

But there is a separate problem for the final value solution. That problem is as follows: the Meno Problem demands that we locate the property of knowledge by virtue of which it is more valuable than mere true belief or any proper subset of its parts. As Kvanvig has recently pointed out, this assumption about the value of knowledge that we are trying to vindicate is a 'prima facie' claim. It is defeasible, and so consistent with cases in which pragmatic consequences will generate a non-epistemic value that accres to true belief of p that will make it more valuable than knowing p. (He gives for example a case in which the world will end if you know p but not if you merely truly believe p). Thus, these sort of cases should not lead us to abandon our assumption that led us to recognize the Meno Problem as legitimate.

However, a more serious concern would arise if we solve the Meno Problem in such a way that we explain knowledge to have some special value X but then come to find out that X is not present in a wide variety of cases of everyday knowledge. That would suggest that the "X" solution is a bad solution. Jennifer Lackey has recently given a much-talked-about example that characterizes the final value solution as doomed by this sort of problem.

The idea is that, in cases of testimonial knowledge, the knower who simply receives knowledge by listening to what someone else says, is not appropriately creditworthy. (The intution is supposed to be that the other agent who transferred the knowledge to you did the relevant epistemic work and is the one that deserves credit, not you). But, as the argument goes, we can come to have knowledge by testimony, and so because the final value solution requires that knowledge be creditable to the agent, the final value solution will be stuck either giving an account of why knowledge is valuable which can't explain this fact in cases of testimonial knowledge (a bad result) or must flat deny that testimonial knowledge is proper knowledge.

This looks like a real dilemma, and has led some (i.e. Pritchard) to deny that creditworthiness is necessary for knowledge, a denial that would cast serious doubts upon the prospect of the final value solution as a viable one.

I think, though, that Lackey's case doesn't quite do what it's supposed to do. In fact, there is a subtle point in the case that I think is overlooked. Uncovering this point might well lead us to doubt that this is a genuine 'credit counterexample.'

First, suppose we ask the question this way:

There is knowledge of (for example) p. Jared has gone out, gathered evidence and inquired in a way that has led to him coming to know p. Damon asks Jared "Is p true?" Jared says 'Yes." Damon comes to know. Who, between Damon and Jared, deserves credit for p? We would say that Jared does. And then conclude that Damon doesn't.

The dialectic in the previous example expresses the way that I think most persuaded by the Lackey case have gone about thinking about it.

Notice that this way of thining about the problem depends on the thought that there is an item of knowledge, p, and then we make a contrastivist comparison between two agents, a comparison that leads us to pick the 'more creditworthy' knower as deserving as such, and deny credit to the other.

There are a few mistakes though in this line of thinking.

Firstly, we shouldn't think of knowledge in this case as exhausted by one token, against which we then assess which of the two agents, the informer or receiver, best deserves credit relative to that one token.

Because we grant that the receiver can know through testimonial knowledge, there are two tokens:

(1) The informer's knowledge that p.
(2) The receiver's knowledge that p.

The informer is clearly creditworthy for his knowledge of p.

A separate question would be: is the receiver creditworthy for her knowledge of p?

Notice that the 'contrastivist' framework with which the question was set up in the previous example would make a legitimate qustion (i.e. is the receiver creditworthy for her knowledge of p) appear illegitimate, for the reason that we've already awarded the credit to the informer. But once we think of the knowledge as two tokens and abandon the contrastivist framing of the question, it makes perfect sense to ask whether the receiver is creditworthy for p.

Now for a further point, suppose that the content of p is that the capitol building is on Queen street. If the receiver had looked this up in a book, would we be so quick to say that she doesn't deserve credit for knowing? No. It seems that we can get credit for knowing facts we look up in books. And if we get credit for looking them up in books, we would get credit for reading them on signs. And if we get credit for visually reading them on signs, we get credit for auditorily hearing them in the mouths of the informers. Any other conclusion would bias one sense in favor of the other.

If I am right about this, then Lackey's problem shouldn't be so troubling. Learning through testimonial knowledge would gain S credit for p in a way know different than S would receive credit for p if she looked it up in a book. And this fact is not threatened by the fact that the informer would also get credit for her knowledge of p.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great post, bearing on the newest work by yourself, John, Duncan, Jennifer and others. I attended the session at the Pacific where Wayne Riggs responded to Jennifer's case, and think I agree with the assessment you both make, that Lackey's case "doesn't quite do what it's supposed to." Your argument that if we abandon the "contrastive framing" of the question regarding attributions of epistemic credit, then the problem she raises of purported cases where knowing is less than a cognitive achievement, is a great way of spelling that out. Indeed this way of looking at epistemic credit that seduces us to pick the 'more creditworthy' knower and deny credit to the other, seems to derive from a deficiently social epistemology.

While the concept of final value you use is basically still Duncan's, the line you are developing seems a a little closer to John's than to Duncan's "revisionary" line. By that I mean that Duncan, in accepting the force of Jennifer's counter-examples to the knowing-as-creditably true belief thesis, comes to hold the knowledge 'simpliciter' is not distinctively valuable. Achievements generally do have non-instrumental, final value, and understanding being one of these, his argument as I've said before generally supports the 'value-driven epistemology' thesis of Kvanvig that understanding has a kind of value that knowledge, (taken in this 'thin' sense of 'knowledge simpliciter) does not. Presumably, Duncan would have to say that 'reflective' knowing has it as well, but perhaps because he wants to avoid distinguishing 'kinds' of knowing, he says in his new draft paper "Radical Scepticism, Epistemic Luck and Epistemic Value" that the kinds of cases Jennifer presents as counter-example to the idea that knowing is (always) an achievement, are ones that "loom large" for him and drive him to his revisionary stance.

The result for Duncan is a distinction between two theses:

1) the 'FINAL VALUE THESIS': that achievements are finally valuable, and

2) the 'ACHIEVEMENT THESIS': that knowing unlike lesser epistemic standings is a form of achievement.

This is also a nice way of putting it, since it seems to underscore one key difference among those who might all be thought to hold some version of what you're calling the "final value solution' to the value problem. You and Greco hold both of these two theses, while Pritchard accepts only (1) but rejects the achievement thesis on the basis of 'knowledge simpliciter' including Lackey-style cases of an agent who knows in an non-credit-worthy way.

Now although my intuitions aren't strong about this case, I think the line you and John are pushing is generally advantageous--it would behoove epistemic compatibilists to avoid Duncan's revisionary stance if that is possible. So while I need to think more about this, like you and John I would not want to give up the achievement thesis unless that is more clearly shown by Jennifer, Duncan, or others to be necessary.

Yes, since success in our cognitive endeavors depends not just on 'good works' but on the the world's 'grace' as you earlier put it, the DATA-form analysis of knowing I advocate allows the independent anti-luck (safety) condition that Duncan demands. This is somewhere where I think you and I agree more with each other, and with Duncan just insofar as he now abandon's the "dilemma" for the motivations to a virtue epistemology so central in his book "Epistemic Luck," and instead advocates a version of "anti-luck virtue epistemology." This of course still acknowledges a correct target of criticism in John's and Linda Z's 'beefed up' virtue epistemologies, where the areteic condition is taken to satisfy the demand to preclude re-gettierization and thus to serve as an anti-gettier luck condition IN ADDITION to a condition addressing cognitive achievement or responsibility (strong definist VE as I term it). On my view Duncan is rightly critical of this, and the responsibilist line should be that perhaps ironically, the areteic condition serve less the concern with the etiology of belief, and more the concern with epistemic value. At any rate, any DATA-form or anti-luck virtue epistemology clearly acknowledges that knowing is "more than" holding true belief in a way creditable to the agent. But this is a different issue than, and isn't directly relevant to, the additional claim Duncan makes on basis of Jennifer's testimonial cases, the claim that knowing is sometimes 'less than' an achievement.

If we can hold 'knowing' in the thin sense that Duncan does when speaking of "knowledge 'simpliciter'", it is unfortunate that we can't agree to take the notion of epistemic credit-worthiness in the same thin, flexible way. Jennifer, I think, 'thickens' and stiffens that notion by the way she invokes it that leads to the conclusion that the agent who receives in a relatively unreflective way the sound testimony of another deserves no epistemic credit for coming to hold a true belief.
Guy Axtell

11:42 PM

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