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H. Social Epistemology, Pragmatism & Virtue Theory > From the Doxastic Paradigm to Epistemology as Inquiry: Hookway and Morton on our 'Epistemological Futures'

The 'Epistemological Futures' book S. Hetherington edited (OUP, 2006) contains some articles I made earlier posts on. Here I want to talk about two other papers that have quite a bit of overlap and mutual support in arguing for a shift to a "strategy" (Morton) or "inquiry" focused epistemological future. Hookway’s call for a shift from the “doxastic paradigm” to “epistemology-as-inquiry,” ties in nicely with value-driven or value-theoretic epistemology, and supports social epistemology in ways that the 'doxastic paradigm' cannot. The intellectual virtues and their role in the cognitive life admit of substantive philosophical – and indeed broadly epistemological – inquiry in their own right.

Adam Morton expresses the inquiry-focused approach in his paper "Knowing What to Think About: When Epistemology Meets the Theory of Choice." There he writes that “most intellectual virtues [and those that most interest him] are virtues of making and carrying out plans” “Most intellectual virtues have essential connections to capacities to search in some particular manner, and capacities to know when that kind of search is a good idea. These are the capacities we makes names for, because hey are the ones we need names for. So we need to name them and become friends with them [these]…multi-purpose virtues of intelligent activity” ( 2006, 118-119). “Nearly all the intellectual virtues that we have everyday names for are virtues of intelligent activity generally, and not specifically of belief formation, decision, or some other category of thought…So the epistemic virtues, in particular, are pointless unless they coincide with or cooperate with virtue of epistemic strategy….” So part of the point of thinking in terms of intellectual virtues, according to Morton, “is to avoid begging the question about the relations between the qualities that make for intellectual success. They may not have much in common; they may often act contrary to one another; it may not be possible for one person to cultivate all of them” (119).


In “Epistemology and Inquiry: The Primacy of Practice,” Christopher Hookway enunciates the inquiry-focused brand of scepticism in that “insights drawn from the pragmatism tradition” can help us arrive at more promising ways of talking about our evaluative practices, both those studies by ethics and by epistemology. The evaluations we make use of in practices of agent evaluation “are not all epistemic: we can be concerned with whether particular beliefs are interesting or important, about whether methods of inquiry are ethical,” about how to approach beliefs for which we have less-than- adequate evidence,” (95) or serious counter- evidence, and so on. Hookway contrasts his prescription for epistemology-as-inquiry with “the doxastic paradigm: epistemic evaluation is fundamentally concerned with evaluating beliefs and their objects, by establishing whether they are justified or by establishing whether they constitute knowledge. The doxastic paradigm seems to employ the idea that the person as studied in epistemology is, primarily, a holder of beliefs…[and that] our primary interest is in the resulting belief rather than the process of reasoning.” (96-97) Hookway’s primary argument is that inquiry-focused epistemology “enables us to raise [critical] questions about (for example) knowledge and justified belief which focus on the concepts that we ought to have rather than describing [or applying] the concepts we actually possess.” (98) For this inquiry-focused kind of virtue responsibilist epistemology, “The target for epistemic evaluation lies in our ability to carry our inquiries, to reason effectively and solve problems, rather than in how far our beliefs are justified, or whether we possess knowledge” (98). The importance of knowledge and justified belief because of their role in reflective inquiry, so that we want to ask how they can fulfill that role. “The core question concerns how it is possible to be good at inquiry rather than, more simply, what it is to have justified beliefs or knowledge” (101).

Since reasoning is a goal-directed activity, the norms that govern reasoning and inquiry will include norms of practical reason: we are evaluating strategies for solving problems, the effectiveness of agents at putting their strategies into effect, and so on. My emphasis on the theory of inquiry is in line with Paul Grice’s suggestion that much philosophical work on rationality fails to take seriously the fact that ‘reasoning is an activity, something with goals and purposes.’ It fails to take account of the connection of reasoning with the will, with cognitive risks engaged and balanced. (100)

For Hookway, character epistemology finds valuable resources in Dewey (see also Axtell 1998; 2007). Dewey’s theory of inquiry treats inquiry as a problem-solving activity, governed by norms of practical reasoning “successful inquiry (whatever its subject matter) begins when we find ourselves confronting a problem (whatever its subject mater) begins when we find ourselves confronting a problem (…’indeterminate situation’)…and Peirce’s writings on epistemological matters are also focused on the norms that govern inquiry, which is described as a struggle to replace doubt by settled belief… [T]hey both regard issues of inquiry or theoretical deliberation as the fundamental ones. A second advantage of pragmatism is that is helps us “to undermine the radical dichotomy between the ‘theoretical’ and the ‘practical’, underlining the ‘primacy of practice.’ [could go to internal and external history]. There are strong claims about conceptual and explanatory primacy here, as Cartesian tradition has employed a vocabulary for the evaluation of stable states rather than for the regulation of activities. The pragmatists encourage us to recognize the primacy of the latter” (103) “Our ability to reason rests upon a system of habits, capacities, traits, and virtues, skills and attitudes, subdoxastic processes which serve as enabling condition for reflection.” (103) “{E]pistmeology should study our practice of epistemic evaluation by exploring how we are able to carry our inquiries and theoretical deliberations in a well-regulated manner” (104).

Epistemology on this responsibilist account is primarily concerned with how it is possible for us to engage in activities such as inquiry and deliberation, and questions about knowledge and about justification should be seen as subordinate to these concerns” (109). Knowledge has forward-looking epistemic implications—it is available as a resource for inquiry. “Unless we think about how we can use knowledge in further inquiry, we shall not understand the epistemic value and importance of knowledge” (105) But the doxastic paradigm obscures this, focusing instead on backward-directed epistemic credentials, or the history of the candidate belief. But if we are to engage value theoretic epistemology, we must give up our penchant for giving the questions of value that attach to our epistemic standings “a backward-facing cast: why is it good to have cognitive states with this kind of history?” By contrast, Hookway thinks, the value of knowledge is traced to factors that are internal to the process of inquiry. (105-6)

A pluralist axiology suggests the need to rethink many further assumptions about epistemology’s central tasks and to readdress the issue of the nature of epistemic normativity. But for the virtues to function this way, Olson holds that "virtue epistemologists must not conceive of the value of intellectual virtue as restricted to its usefulness in clarifying the concepts of knowledge and its justification." Phil thus illustrates a responsiblist orientation in that he is not interested “to explain what knowledge and justified belief are, and to investigate how far we are able to possess states of knowledge and justified belief,” but, with Hookway (and quoting Hookway), “to describe and explain our practice of epistemic evaluation; to investigate how far our epistemic goals are appropriate and how far our evaluative practice enables us to achieve our epistemic ends. (Hookway 2003, p. 192). However, even many of those on the responsibilist side of the fence focus narrowly on the value of knowledge when they would be better-served to focus on the value of the virtues and of articulate reflection.

I have gone beyond explaining Hookway's and Morton's inquiry-focused versions of virtue epistemology, by tying in Hookway's manner of connecting it with the resources of classical pragmatism. When the connections between virtue theory and pragmatism are raised, there are other authors like Phil Olson who have written pretty extensively. Going back to an earlier post, I highlighted his argument that, "Through the concept of intellectual virtue, we can shift the focus of the internalism/ externalism debate away from its narrow concern with knowledge and its justification and reorient it on the wider field of epistemic value. In doing so, contemporary epistemologists can accept the insight of externalism without abandoning the internalists’ insistence upon the value of articulate reflection. Articulate reflection is an epistemic good to which knowledgeable people should aspire."
April 4, 2008 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell