A forum for VE lucubration

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Epistemic Value Pluralism, Aptness and (Perhaps?) A Problem for Intellectual-Virtue Delineation

When reading Sosa’s paper “Epistemic Normativity” (an essay in his new book), I was prompted to reconsider my previously-held assumptions about the epistemic value monism/value pluralism debate, and in particular, how this debate could be approached by those who endorse (any version of) virtue epistemology.
As I understand it, there are two questions that motivate the epistemic value momism/pluralism (EVM/P) debate, and subsequently, there are two versions of EVM and EVP.

Question 1: “What is the fundamental epistemic goal?”

Note: Those addressing this question for the most part take ‘goal’ to be normative rather than descriptive. That is, the important question is not what goal do inquirers in fact adopt, but rather, what is the correct goal of inquiry (or, what is the fundamental goal inquirers ought to adopt?)

If one says, in response to the question, “Truth and only truth!” then she is an EVMonist. If she says “Truth!” (as well as some other epistemic end), then she is an EVPluralist. Pritchard (“Recent Work on Epistemic Value”) and Riggs (“Insight, Openmindedness and Understanding”) seem to frame the dichotomy this way, focusing on that articulation of the question.

A different articulation of the debate-framing question is:

Question 2: “Does truth exhaust all possible sources of epistemic value?”

As the story goes, if Y, then EVM, if N, then EVP.

How one understands sources of value, on the one hand, and goals of inquiry, on the other, will determine whether she takes these two questions to collapse into the same question.

However, strictly speaking, they need not. (And so, in principle, I think there can be two distinct versions of EVM/EVP, which turn on precisely what question is being answered).

Against that background, it’s interesting to consider how a virtue epistemologist would go about delineating which traits are intellectual virtues.Here’s an (I think rather uncontroversial?) way to go about deciding this:

X is an IV iff X promotes (in some relevant way) whatever good inquiry aims at (i.e. the epistemic ‘good’.

(Note: some VE theorists such as Zagzebksi and Montmarquet will also build in to virtue a motivational component, and require that the trait also be appropriately ‘motivated’ toward (along with promoting) the epistemic end, to count as an IV)—so I mean to use ‘promote’ in a very wide sense here, so as to characterize the IV-delineating method in a way that most VE theorists would be on board with.

A further side-point: Because virtues are usually understood with respect to goals rather than values, the task of virtue-delineating will turn importantly on how Question 1 is answered, rather than Question 2. Or so it seems).

Anyway, if the ‘end’ of inquiry is ‘truth’, then trait X is an IV iff (and to the extent) that it promotes truth. This would be, I take it, the virtue-delineating method for an EVMonist.

Importantly, though, if you are an EVPluralist (I take it of either version), the virtue-delineating method will be different. Suppose that the EVPluralist identifies two distinct epistemic ends: knowledge and understanding. Her virtue-delineating method would have to look something like this:

X is an IV iff X promotes (in some relevant way) EITHER knowledge OR understanding (or both).

EVPluralists, thus, will have an easier way of explaining why paradigmatic IVs that don’t obviously promote truth—such as insight and openmindedness—rightly quality as EVs. They’re IVs because they promote the end of understanding, regardless of whether they promote truth.
The preceding is, as it were, my “happy little picture” of how the EVP/EVM debate and virtue-delineating is supposed to work. I’m sure some of this is controversial… but regardless, it is against that background that I’m now puzzled after thinking about the Sosa paper.
Part of my happy little picture, which I didn’t mention, is that I had a rather narrow conception of what sorts of ends are available for an EVPluralist to adopt in conjunction with the end of truth. Kvanvig and Riggs have argued for understanding and intelligibility (respectively), and I think both of those are plausible options. I’d never had a clear idea what other ends there might be.
Sosa’s paper suggests that apt belief is of fundamental epistemic value. Aptness of belief is, on Sosa’s view, cognitive accuracy because of cognitive adroitness; put another way, the cognitive success of a true belief must be because of cognitive ability. This type of thinking has, as one benefit, a straightforward way of responding to the Meno Problem (i.e. the Value of Knowledge problem) because the view can explain why knowledge is more valuable than mere true belief: namely, a belief that is accurate because adroit is more valuable than a belief that is merely accurate.Sosa writes:

One part at least of the solution to the value problem lies in a point central to virtue epistemology: namely, that
the value of apt belief is no less epistemically fundamental than that of true belief.1⁰ For this imports a way in which FN:10
epistemic virtues enter constitutively in the attainment of fundamental value, not just instrumentally. (“Epistemic Normativity” p. 18)

A menacing question emerges: if Sosa is right about this, then presumably, Sosa will be committed to the following virtue-delineating method:

X is an IV iff X promotes (in some relevant way) EITHER truth OR apt belief. The only way he would not be committed to this formula is if he claimed that some end can be fundamentally epistemically valuable, and at the same time, traits that promote this end need not count as epistemic virtues (even though they would count as IVs by virtue of promoting the other fundamentally valuable epistemic end, truth). And that seems arbitrary.

But if he is committed to the formula, then it seems that a strange circularity problem emerges:

Given that aptness is defined in terms of intellectual virtue on the view, we wouldn’t be able to then define intellectual virtue in terms of aptness.

That is, we could not say: X is an intellectual virtue iff X promotes the epistemic end of cognitive success because of intellectual virtue.

Unfortunately for me, I am sympathetic to seemingly everything that leads to this apparent circularity problem, namely:
1.The Sosa/Greco idea that knowledge requires in some important sense success because of intellectual virtue.
2. Sosa’s idea that aptness (cognitive success because of cognitive virtue) is of fundamental epistemic value, no less than truth is. (At least, now that I've thought about it after reading his paper, it seems right).
3. The thought that anything of fundamental epistemic value would be a proper goal of epistemic inquiry.
And..
4. The idea that a trait is an intellectual virtues insofar as the trait promotes fundamental epistemic goal/goals

Hopefully I’ve overlooked something (or several things) that, if spotted, would make this problem disappear.

Perhaps the most salient questions will be: (i) whether aptness is in fact of fundamental epistemic value, and (ii) whether some x can be both fundamentally epistemically valuable and such that, for any trait, were it to qualify as an intellectual virtue, it would not do so for the reason that it promotes that valuable x.) If the answer to (ii) is ‘yes’, then the circularity problem disappears… however to answer (ii) affirmatively, we would have to either widely depart from the standard way of determining which traits are intellectual virtues deny that something of fundamental epistemic value is also a proper goal of epistemic inquiry… and neither of those avenues looks especially inviting.

I'd love to get some insight on either how to escape the dilemma, or what the error in my thinking is that's led me to think the dilemma arises...

All the best, Adam

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