G. Naturalism & Normativity > Announcing a new Journal special edition on Naturalism, Historicism, and Virtue Epistemology

Congrats to Mark Bevir and Herman Paul for having edited the just published edition of JOURNAL OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY (6, 2012).

The edition is entitled "Naturalism and/or Historicism?" and along with papers by John Zammito and David Henderson contain papers by Herman Paul, Anton Froeyman, and Guy Axtell that very directly examine virtue epistemology in relationship to both naturalism and historicism.

This is clearly a ground-breaking special edition. In their brief introduction, Bevir and Paul write that, "In a sense, then, all articles collected in this issue turn out to advocate “moderate” or “weak” versions of historicism. They seek to pay serious attention to the changing, historical, and contextual dimensions of human inquiry, in what Henderson calls the “hopeful or epistemically optimistic” conviction that historical sensitivity will not weaken, but rather strengthen such inquiry. Slightly more ambitiously formulated, the articles in this issue embrace naturalist epistemology or, in some cases, character-based virtue
epistemology precisely as a means for getting beyond outdated, though still frequently invoked “objectivism” vs. “relativism” dichotomies. Each in their own way, they argue that naturalized epistemology or virtue epistemology may help enable philosophers to affirm the historical in a more nuanced, more qualified, and helpful sense than relativists and objectivists have ever been able to do" (2012, p. 303).


This article seeks to reconcile a historicist sensitivity to how intellectually virtuous behavior is shaped by historical contexts with a non-relativist account of historical scholarship. To that end, it distinguishes between hierarchies of intellectual virtues and hierarchies of intellectual goods. The fijirst hierarchy rejects a one-size-fijits-all model of historical virtuousness in favor of a model that allows for signifijicant varieties
between the relative weight that historians must assign to intellectual virtues in order to acquire justifijied historical understanding. It grounds such diffferences, not on the historians’ interests or preferences, but on their historiographical situations, so that hierarchies of virtues are a function of the demands that historiographical situations (defijined as interplays of genre, research question, and state of scholarship) make upon historians. Likewise, the second hierarchy allows for the
pursuit of various intellectual goods, but banishes the specter of relativism by treating historical understanding as an intellectual good that is constitutive of historical scholarship and therefore deserves priority over alternative goods. The position that emerges from this is classifijied as a form of weak historicism.
Keywords: virtue epistemology, intellectual virtues, epistemic virtues, intellectual goods, historical

This paper develops under-recognized connections between moderate historicist methodology and character (or virtue) epistemology, and goes on to argue that their combination supports a “dialectical” conception of objectivity. Considerations stemming from underdetermination problems motivate our claim that historicism requires agent-focused rather than merely belief-focused epistemology; embracing this point helps historicists avoid the charge of relativism. Considerations stemming from the genealogy of epistemic virtue concepts motivate our claim that character epistemologies are strengthened by moderate historicism
about the epistemic virtues and values at work in communities of inquiry; embracing this point helps character epistemologists avoid the charge of objectivism.
Keywords: historiography, virtue epistemology, naturalism, objectivity, thick concepts, underdetermination problem, understanding, historicism

Abstract. In this paper, I take up Herman Paul’s suggestion to analyze the process of writing history in terms of virtues. In contrast to Paul, however, I argue that the concept of virtue used here should not be based on virtue epistemology, but rather on virtue ethics. The reason is that virtue epistemology is discriminative towards non-cognitive virtues and incompatible with the Ankersmitian/Whitean view of historiography as a multivocal path from historical reality to historical representation.
Virtue ethics on the other hand, more specifijically those forms of virtue ethics which emphasize the uncodifijiability thesis, is very capable of providing such an account. In order to make this somewhat more concrete, I distinguish four important traits of virtue ethics, and I try to make clear how these can be interpreted with respect to the writing of history.
Keywords: virtue ethics, Herman Paul, uncodifiability, John McDowell, Alasdair MacIntyre


In response to Anton Froeyman’s paper, “Virtues of Historiography,” this article argues that philosophers of history interested in why historians cherish such virtues as carefulness, impartiality, and intellectual courage would do wise not to classify these virtues unequivocally as either epistemic or moral virtues. Likewise, in trying to grasp the roles that virtues play in the historian’s professional practice, philosophers of history would be best advised to avoid adopting either an epistemological
or an ethical perspective. Assuming that the historian’s virtuous behavior
has epistemic and moral dimensions (as well as aesthetic, political, and other dimensions), this article advocates a non-reductionist account of historical scholarship, which acknowledges that the virtues cherished by historians usually play a variety of roles, depending on the goals they are supposed to serve. Given that not the least important of these goals are epistemic ones, the articles concludes that virtue ethical approaches, to the extent that they are focused on the acquisition of moral instead of epistemic goods, insufffijiciently recognize the role of virtue in the
pursuit of such epistemic aims as knowledge and understanding.
Keywords: virtue ethics, virtue epistemology, intellectual virtues, historical scholarship, historiography.
December 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell