G. Naturalism & Normativity > What is 'Epistemic Value Pluralism'?

Epistemic value monism (EVM) and epistemic value pluralism (EVP) have been topics of some discussion, and one of the key points of contention in a broader "epistemic value" literature. Is EVP merely the negation of EVM, or a substantive claim of its own? What epistemologies take advantage of EVP, and what are supposed to be the advantages of embracing it? Are there epistemologies that can be said still to be committed to EVM, and if so, what are the marks of this commitment? Finally, does the rejection of EVM in favor of EVM serve to expand epistemology? Does it help clarify the role of virtue theory in epistemology, broadly construed?
September 13, 2006 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
I think this is a very important issues and one that bears heavily on the value problem. Some diagnoses of the problem as it faces reliabilists (Ward Jones, Kvanvig and I think Linda) pin the problem of the reliabilist's instrumentalist axiology. I don't think this is the problem. Rather, the problem is epistemic value monism which limits epistemic values to truth and that which gets us to truth. We could retain an instrumentalist epistemic axiology, but admit plural epistemic values. Something like this move seems necessary to solve the value problem.

In "Internalism And The Value Problem" Jason suggested that a non-veritic epistemic value is 'how we have a belief'. I tried unsucessfully to locate Jason's paper, so I may not have that exactly right. It's here somewhere! Admitting Jason's non-veritic value seems compatible with retaining an instrumentalist axiology. Monism/pluralism is the crux of the issue, not instrumentalism.

As of yet, I do not have a settled view on this. I would like to be a value pluralist in epistemology, but I am not quite sure how to do it. Thus, I am quite interested to hear what others think on this issue, and if Jason is still pursuing the non-veritic epistemic value identified in that essay.

September 13, 2006 | Registered CommenterAbrol Fairweather
I agree with Abrol that it is not instrumentalist axiology but rather value monism that is the problem. In a paper I posted on this website I make some suggestions about how to be a value pluralist. My focus is more on the over-emphasis of knowledge and its justification than on truth—though truth, knowledge and justification are of course not isolated values. I’ll summarize some of the key points here.

Advocates of epistemological externalism maintain that the value of knowledge can be divorced from the value of articulate reflection. (By “articulate reflection” I mean the ability to give an account of one’s knowledge.) Internalist epistemologists argue that the value of knowledge is dependent upon the value of articulate reflection. This debate has traditionally centered on the epistemic value of knowledge and its justification conditions, leaving the independent value of articulate reflection largely unexplored.

I see no harm in granting the externalist insight that attributions of knowledge and epistemic justification do not require that the knower be able to give an account of her knowledge. (Chicken sexers know whether a given chick is male or female.) For it is still open to the epistemic internalist to insist that the chicken sexer lacks something epistemically valuable. I think even advocates of epistemological externalism would (or should) grant that. The ability to give an account of one’s knowledge (i.e., to give reasons for believing what one rightly believes) is surely something that people should cultivate. But are there any good reasons to think that the value of articulate reflection consists in its contribution to the value of knowledge?

In response to Sosa’s distinction between “animal knowledge” and “human” or “reflective” knowledge, Hilary Kornblith notes, “The epistemic utility of reflection is . . . an interesting and important topic, but it is most clearly addressed directly. Insisting on a distinction between animal knowledge and reflective knowledge gets in the way of, rather than aids, such an assessment” (Sosa and His Critics, 132). Kornblith’s response to Sosa can also be applied, I think, to Code’s distinction between “knowing” and “knowing well,” and to Zagzebski’s distinction between “high-grade” and “low-grade” knowledge. Knowledge is certainly valuable, but if internalists abandon their claims on knowledge, they do not lose much by doing so. After all, they can still claim that knowers who are not articulately reflective lack something valuable, something to which knowers ought to aspire—even if that “something” is not a necessary condition for epistemic justification or knowledge.

It seems to me that the concept of intellectual virtue can function as the unifying consideration in the study of a plurality of epistemic values (including knowledge, epistemic justification, articulate reflection, wisdom, understanding, etc.) The utility of these values needn’t be understood always and only in terms of their truth-conduciveness. If we were to understand them, say, as values internal to inquiry, then we could say that they are instrumental for a wide variety of ends. For very often the goal of inquiry is not to get at the truth, but to be able to do something—to act, to organize, to inquire better in the future, etc.
September 15, 2006 | Registered CommenterPhilip Olson
Philip, What you say makes good sense, though I still want to reserve criticism for at least some reliably forms of instrumentalism. I'd agree that epistemic value monism may be the deeper or more basic assumption to fix criticism on, but shouldn't we acknowledge that the mistakes it engenders in epistemology thereafter come to inform forms of instrumentalism, resulting in especially inadeqaute accounts of epistemic normativity, (or as we might prefer to put it, of epistemological axiology)?!

You say that your approach has you looking for a concept of intellectual virtue that "can function as the unifying consideration in the study of a plurality of epistemic values (including knowledge, epistemic justification, articulate reflection, wisdom, understanding, etc.). The utility of these values needn’t be understood always and only in terms of their truth-conduciveness." This seems very sound to me, and I'd suggest it should reside high on a list of goals of a 'responsibilist' research program.

Presuming epistemic value monism leads one to take truth as the only value of inherent value (Abrol called attention to Ward Jones' papers on this, and I'd mention Stephen Grimm's Stirling paper overlaps this issue too). So the reception the reintroduction of the concept of an "epistemic virtue" into the literature (by an analytic tradition that has turned half-heartedly externalist in its post-Gettier era), is to make sense of it only as a habit or disposition that is truth-conducive from the external point of view. But if we remember Wayne's Jamesian point that we need to 'balance our epistemic ends" and that, moreover, truth and knowledge needn't predominate as the only ends that epistemologists need study, then we would seem to be justified in taking a broader view of "epistemic virtues" as habits and dispositions that contribute to and help constitute the cognitive 'flourishing' of the agent. Is something like that what you mean in introducing these terms, as it seems quite agreeable? I'm less clear about how "articulate reflection" gets raised to be one of the major cognitive goals, on your view, and I don't yet see why I shouldn't hold articulate reflection to be thoroughly caught up with the question of the value of knowledge. So please do help me get clearer on especially these points of your proposal.
September 15, 2006 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
A quick reply to Abrol. I believe I know what you're referring to in my "Internalism and the Value Problem." (For better or worse, I set that paper aside once I started writing my "Unraveling the Value Problem" which in turn spawned my "Is There a Value Problem?". I've just added the former two papers to my website at in case you're still interested.) As I recall, I refer there to a kind of intentional value: the value of desiring or loving some valuable end like truth. On my view, such value is not merely instrumental or reducible to the value of its object (even though, if the object itself were not valuable, then neither would desiring it be valuable). Thus it's a kind of dependent intrinsic value; or, if you prefer, an extrinsic, noninstrumental value. Is this what you were thinking of? As to whether I still want to defend this view, my general answer is "yes"; however, in light of how my understanding of the value problem has evolved, I doubt that I'm thinking about its relation to this problem in exactly the same way.
September 15, 2006 | Registered CommenterJason Baehr
Thanks for your reply, Guy. I think there are non-instrumental values (i.e., things that are valuable for their own sake, and not only as a means to some other intrinsically valuable end—such as, say, truth). So I, too, would reserve criticism for any version of instrumentalism that tries to reduce the value of all epistemic norms, practices and activities to their conduciveness to a single end. I only mean that instrumentalism per se does not threaten EVP.

I do mean to suggest, as you put it, that “truth and knowledge needn’t predominate as the only ends that epistemologists need study,” and that we need to study “habits and dispositions that contribute to and help constitute the cognitive ‘flourishing’ of the agent.” But rather than “balancing” a multiplicity of epistemic ends, I hope we can aspire to the integration of our many (epistemic and non-epistemic, cognitive and moral) objectives. For this reason I want to position the values of truth, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, articulate reflection, etc. against the broader background of inquiry and problem solving. Our ends are as various as the problems we seek to solve through inquiry. Sometimes our aim is to find something out, to get at the truth. Other times it is to get something done, to get organized, to act. Part of the process of inquiry is to determine what sort of ends we are after, and the ends we set do not always fall neatly within the domain of one particular discipline, subject matter, or “field” of inquiry. I am fond of the following passage from Chapter Two of Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations: “We are not students of some subject matter but students of problems. And problems may cut right across the borders of any subject matter of discipline” (1962, p. 67). By focusing on inquiry we can, I think, widen the scope of our epistemic concern to include values other than truth, knowledge and epistemic justification. Moreover, I think an inquiry-focused account of virtue is sufficiently wide to include non-epistemic values as well (e.g., moral values, political values, aesthetic values, etc.).

By “articulate reflection” I mean the ability to give an account of one’s knowledge—that is, the ability to give reasons for believing what one rightly believes. This requires cognitive access to those reasons. So I use the term “articulate reflection” to refer to that value which advocates of (access) internalism believe to be missing from externalist accounts of knowledge and its justification. However, I am willing to grant the insight of externalism—which, as I see it, is that knowledge can be rightfully attributed to people who do not have cognitive access to (and therefore cannot articulately communicate) the reasons that in fact justify the beliefs they rightly hold. I would urge all advocates of epistemic internalism to concede knowledge to the externalists, for in doing so they do not concede much. Advocates of internalism can still insist that the knower lacks something of great epistemic value: namely, the ability to give an account of her knowledge. The value of articulate reflection needn’t be understood in terms of its contribution to the value of knowledge, but instead can be understood in terms of its role in inquiry. Articulate reflection allows us to formulate general principles that can be applied to a wide variety of unforeseen and novel problems, and to share with others the principles that govern our inquiries.

Perhaps the case of chicken sexers can illustrate the independence of the value of knowledge from the value of articulate reflection. Let’s suppose that chicken sexers know whether a given chick is male or female. Can the chicken sexer’s remarkable skill be put to use in other kinds of practices or inquiries? Nothing much seems to follow from the realization that a person is able to determine, with great reliability, the sex of chicks—other than, say, that the person is fit for a job sorting chicks. If the chicken sexer were able to explain the principles according to which her skill operates (i.e., if the chicken sexer were articulately reflective about her chicken sexing), the value of the skill might increase as its usefulness in other practices, inquiries, activities, etc. became apparent. The chicken sexer’s knowledge might then lead to something other than more chicken sexing.

As creatures who desire to flourish, we have a responsibility to know the truth. But we also have a responsibility to share our knowledge with others, and to deepen and expand its impact upon human life. The cultivation of articulate reflection should be among our primary goals because it helps us to do just that. The value of articulate reflection has more to do with the use to which we put our knowledge in inquiry than with the content of the value, knowledge.

I hope I’ve been able to clear some things up—for better or for worse. And again, thank you for your post!
September 18, 2006 | Registered CommenterPhilip Olson
I agree very much that an account of the intellectual virtues should be "inquiry-focused," and how the value of articulate reflection fits into such an account. Certainly this finds support in classical pragmatism, and I think you're right that it provides a way to provide integration to the various ends that EVP allows us to acknowledge: it "position[s] the values of truth, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, articulate reflection, etc. against the broader background of inquiry and problem solving."

I think I've reflected in my writings some of the emphasis on inquiry and problem-solving that you speak about. I have often used the forgotten term "zetetic inquirer" to express this, the zetetic inquirer being one whose motivations and active efforts are to solve problems and whose methods of inquiring into "unknown truths" can be evaluated qualitatively. Externalism tends to presuppose truth/falsity of our beliefs as a given in its rational reconstructive project, and to negate the activity and self-reflection of the agent by treating knowledge as a purely third-personal affair. So I contrast the interest in rational reconstructionism with the interest in evaluating the agent qualitatively, in terms of motivations and actions in the zetetic context in which their "agency" is actually enacted. This language probably isn't as clear or useful as your simpler and more effective call for an "inquiry-focused" account of the virtues. But I allow austere externalist the legitimacy of their interest in a rational reconstructive project, while insisting that the "responsibilist" has an equally legitimate interest in the zetetic context of active inquiry, wherein we can situate our special concern with concern with epistemic responsibility, motivation, and the reflective or character virtues more specifically.

I like as well your point that "The value of articulate reflection needn’t be understood in terms of its contribution to the value of knowledge, but instead can be understood in terms of its role in inquiry," but am less sure about asserting positively "the independence of the value of knowledge from the value of articulate reflection." What happens in the internalism/externalism debate, as a consequence of divergent interests in explanation being reified into conditions on knowledge, is that high-end (or reflective) knowledge or low-end, 'brute' animal knowledge gets absolutized and made paradigmatic of what knowledge 'just is.' The externalist ends up saying that conditions sufficient for animal knowledge are sufficient for knowledge simpiciter, and the internalist that conditions necessary for reflective knowledge must be necessary for knowledge at all. Instantly we're talking at cross-purposes. Like you I don't at all mind allowing the first-time chicken sexer (before he has inductive evidence of his competence for what he does?) as having a kind of knowledge, but I don't for that reason want to capitulate to externalists that a proper analysis of knowing X is wholly an externalist affair.

At points it seemed to me like you might be suggesting such a capitulation, but I'm not sure. In my taxonomy I distinguish between "Independence" and "Integration" version of VE, where the Independence approach essentially says, 'give the dog its bone, and let's set up shop entirely outside the concern with the analysis of knowledge-it isn't to concede much'. I think that such a concessionary strategy is a natural reaction to the attempt to get over and beyond the stagnation of the internalist/externalist debate, but that ultimately its not the best strategy to serve us: if a more integrative approach is available that can preserve the link between knowing and personal justification/responsibility we should pursue it, (though not of course presuppose it from the outset), but be willing to accept the weaker position should that be the best we can make out. Any thoughts on that?
September 19, 2006 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell