H. Social Epistemology, Pragmatism & Virtue Theory > "Thickies: An Account of Second-Wave Virtue Epistemology" draft available

My paper for the Epistemic Agency conference in Geneva next week is still very much a draft, but I've posted it to the JB Library for possible comments and discussion. Click on JB Library on the right-hand scroll bar. you needn't be logged in to access JB Library papers.
April 20, 2008 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
Guy, great seeing you at the conference! Just want to record some aspects of our conversation. In your taxonomy, it's hard to see where a view like mine fits in. One problem is mapping the logical space--I do have a view that seems possible--but another is the nature of the "thick"/"thin" distinction altogether. I suggested at one point in one of our conversations that "right" and "good" might be interdefinable much like "part" and "whole". Scholastic moral theory contained the central maxim "Do good and shun evil" and then had a host of values the bringing abotu of which was a good thing, indeed, one's duty *because* it was the bringing about of a good. Acts of supererogation bring another kind of merit and the assessment of one's character should be a broad-based affair taking into account both our disposition to bring about good states of affairs--to realize values--but also the extent to which we do this by doing our duty. I know this is a hodge-podge (it must be for now, I've come back to a lot of backed-up work), but I think it reflects the hodge-podge that is the reality of character assessment. Surely there are goods whose goodness makes it a duty for us to bring them about and surely it is a good itself to have done one's duty.

You said that you were worried the taxonomy wouldn't get John's position right and now you've got me on the other side. And you've got my ramblings about it not being so easy to distinguish between "thick" and "thin" concepts above.

I'll leave this mess in your hands to respond to at your leisure. :-)

Hope your ski trip goes well!
April 29, 2008 | Registered CommenterTrent Dougherty
Trent, I think there's something of a consensus that the thick/thin concept distinction is one of degree. But it seems to me that debates between evidentialist internalists and reliabilist externalism over kn and justification have instilled a 'thin-focused' conception of epistemology's central tasks, and in that sense the demand to 'thicken' epistemology can legitimately object to that shared conception of epistemology--it can carry on a 'double-edged' critique. Still I think its very possible and indeed incumbent on both to have an account of the intellectual virtues, and or epistemic value, and that this serves to broaden the field, even if these near-perennial debates between internalism and externalism, or again, deontology and consequentialism, will always re-constitute themselves.

Anyway, if thin means 'theory,' then as I said I'm not for an anti-theory approach or a move 'from' thin to thick, but for a better balance, which may be achieved when we all identify epistemic value with what stimulates inquiry (following a suggestion of Schmitt and Lahroodi, 2008), and thereby supplement their approaches with a theory of the virtues.

We may have philosophical differences over how aims, rules, and virtues are related--I don't know, that's a difficult topic with lots of different accounts available. Character epistemologists can have accounts of evidence, and of the support that epistemic responsibility lends to reliability. Reliabilists and evidentialists can have accounts of the virtues. Debates over conceptual and explanatory primacy are somewhat to be expected, but I'm not sure how well-motivated they always are. I think I've gone a different way than you one that, as i think we're better off leaving them as independent factors. I think of a unified account of normativity as different than a reductionistic account. The best unification needn't invlove reduction in the sense of making one of the three primary. This makes me suspicious of the part-whole analogy you make and of much else that bears on the primacy of one of the three (aims, rules, and virtues or habits) as enjoying conceptual primacy. I have tended by contrast to think in terms of Dewey's talk of aims, rules and approbations/disapprobations (where he fits habits and virtues/vices) as "three *independent* factors," whereas the part/whole analogy seems to make aims and rules (at least) highly *dependent* upon one another, is that right? But I haven't written on any of this, so your critique gives mke plenty of food for thought.
May 2, 2008 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell