H. Social Epistemology, Pragmatism & Virtue Theory > Discussion Paper: Phil Olson on "Dewey's Virtues"

Congrats to Phil Olson, for "Dewey's Virtues" (2007 SAAP conference). Find it in JB Library, Drafts folder (very bottom of scroll bar).

The abstract: "It is both surprising and unfortunate that Dewey’s philosophy has received so little attention from contemporary virtue theorists working both in ethics and epistemology. It is surprising because Dewey frequently writes about the importance of habit, virtue, vice and character in all areas of human experience. It is unfortunate because Dewey’s theories of inquiry and transactional experience can make important contributions to some of the central concerns within contemporary virtue theory. In this paper I examine the work of two leading virtue theorists (Lorraine Code and Linda Zagzebski) and indicate how Dewey’s philosophy can expose and challenge philosophical assumptions that prevent virtue theorists from achieving the philosophical objectives they hope to achieve. I bring Dewey’s thoughts to bear on questions concerning the nature of virtue, the relationship between the moral and intellectual virtues, and the relationship between virtue and flourishing."

Available online at
December 21, 2006 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
We have recently discussed Goldman's veritist version of EVM, and objections to it. The "inquiry-focused" account of epistemic virtues in Phil's paper (an approach I share), gives us pause to look at Zagzebski's account of epistemic virtue (which I describe as the Motivationist-Intrinscalist ensemble).

Sharp differences with reliabilism are apparent in the account of Linda Zagzebski. She combines a motivationist account of the nature of the virtues with a constitutivist account of the value of the virtues, to form a Motivationist-Constitutivist ensemble (hereafter M-C). On the constitutivist view, intellectual virtues are valuable in themselves, because of the kind of thing a good character is. They are accorded intrinsic worth as being not only instrumentally related to but also partly constitutive of the intellectual telos. The telos in turn is conceived in holistic and overtly normative terms: intellectual flourishing, for example. What is important then is the personal worth of the virtues, which is a function of motivational and other factors internal to agency (Dancy, 2000). Epistemic value for Zagzebski (2003) is always derivative from what we care about; it is caring that give rise to the demand to be epistemically conscientious.

According to this view, motivation is not only the evaluative component of virtue, but also the source indicating its primary structure: The source of epistemic virtue is located in antecedently distinct motivations. This motivationist account of the nature of the virtues is non-consequentialist: a trait’s status as an intellectual virtue is not a function of its (external) cognitive outputs or consequences, but rather of motives and characteristic emotions that attend paradigmatic instances of human knowing. In such instances we find that knowing demands reflective engagement, so that by implication beliefs formed in an insufficiently reflective fashion (young children, unenlightened chicken-sexers, etc.) should not qualify.
Objections to the M-C ensemble focus around whether a motivation-based can provide the needed degree of unity to the sources of epistemic virtue to avoid appearing ad hoc (Greco, 2002). Zagzebski argues that a strong unification of the intellectual virtues is indeed available on her view, but it requires accepting assimilationism. This is her proposal to “subsume the intellectual virtues under the general category of the moral virtues, or aretai ethikai, roughly as Aristotle understands the latter (1996).” Accordingly, objections to the M-C ensemble are that it is a) non-naturalistic (Goldman, 2007), b) epistemologically internalist despite avowals to the contrary (Pritchard, 2005), c) extravagantly assimilationist (Driver, 2000), and d) ad hoc insofar as it presents a fragmented conception of the sources of virtue (Olson, 2006).

Are these fair descriptions of Zagzebski's views? Which of the noted objections do you find especially strong or weak?
December 25, 2006 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell