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Virtue Epistemology

In this Wireless Philosophy video, Geoff Pynn (Northern Illinois) introduces virtue epistemology, an approach to epistemology that takes intellectual virtue as the central concept in discussions of theory of knowledge. Along the way, he shows how virtue epistemology can provides interesting solutions to some of the problems that we've encountered so far in the series.

Speaker: Dr. Geoff Pynn, Assistant Professor, Northern Illinois University.

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  • blobby green style avatar for user Sam
    Hello everyone! Ok so I finally finished watching all these videos and am I correct that after all these hours of lectures we didn't end up too far from where we started?
    What we've ended up with is - "Knowledge" = true belief derived from intellectual virtues. Is that correct?

    Isn't this a (at least a partial semantic) contradiction though to everything already said whereas Virtue Epistemologist's reject the idea of a reductionist/formulaic version of knowledge but then turn around and saying "knowledge = truth + belief + intellectual virtue"? The only difference here seems to be that "intellectual virtue" is open ended and we can only tell qualitative differences between "more and less virtuous" rather than "is and isn't virtuous".
    (5 votes)
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    • starky tree style avatar for user soceraso
      My sense is that a virtue epistemologist sees how difficult it is to have knowledge or even to know what knowledge entails. The virtue epistemologist then puts intellectual virtues above knowledge. They are saying that knowledge isn't the focus or purpose of epistemology but rather it is figuring out how to think.

      You might say, "Epistemology is the study of knowledge." Whereas a virtue epistemologist might say, "Epistemology is the study of the habits that lead us closer to knowledge."
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

hi my name is Jeff pin and I teach philosophy at Northern Illinois University in this video I'm going to talk with you about virtue epistemology unlike several of the other topics discussed in this series virtue epistemology is not a specific theory about the nature of knowledge justified belief what will have you instead it's a general approach to epistemological questions comprising two basic assumptions the first assumption is that epistemology is or ought to be a normative discipline what does this mean well some claims describe how things are while other claims say how things ought to be will say that claims of the first kind are descriptive while claims of the latter are normative for example if you say that Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald you're making a descriptive claim a claim about what actually happened on the other hand if you say that Jack Ruby should not have killed Lee Harvey Oswald you're making a normative claim a claim about what ought to have happened to say that epistemology is a normative discipline means that epistemology is concerned with questions about how we ought to form beliefs assess evidence evaluate people's testimony reconcile conflicting sources of information and so on to draw an analogy the idea is that the piss tamala G is to our intellectual lives what ethics is to our practical lives just as ethics concerns how we ought to act epistemology concerns how we ought to think the second assumption of virtue epistemology concerns the particular way that it understands what it means to treat epistemology as a normative discipline consider ethics again one set of ethical questions concerns the differences between right and wrong actions for example we might ask when if ever is it ok to lie what are our duties to the poor is it permissible to kill non-human animals for food what obligations do we have to future generations another set of ethical questions concerns the differences between good and dad character traits for example you might ask what is courage are courageous people admirable if so why how would a fair judge balance conflicting interests what is a good friend how can we teach people to cultivate morally good habits in ethics the approach that treats such questions about character traits as the most fundamental moral issues is known as virtue ethics while a similar distinction can be drawn concerning normative epistemology on the one hand we might focus on questions about the differences among various kinds of beliefs evidence and so on for example we might ask what's the difference between a justified and an unjustified belief is it okay to believe something just because someone says it what features of a belief suffice to turn it into knowledge on the other hand we could focus on questions about intellectual character traits habits of mind attitudes towards evidence and so on for example we might ask what is curiosity is it good to be curious and if so why how would a fair and open minded investigator balance conflicting testimony what makes a person wise what are the best techniques for teaching people intellectual responsibility virtue epistemology treats such issues about people's intellectual characters their intellectual virtues and vices as the most fundamental questions of epistemology throughout this series we've considered a number of different theories of knowledge reliable ism the causal theory the tracking theory and more the theories suggest different additional conditions that need to be added to a true belief to turn it into knowledge is knowledge a matter of having a reliable belief forming method the right kind of causal connections certain counterfactual conditions well if you are virtue a pistol mala gist such theories are going to seem to get things backwards from the perspective of virtue epistemology what makes a true belief a case of knowledge is a matter of the virtues of the subject who holds the belief for example Linda's exits key a prominent virtue epistemologists claims that knowledge is quote a state of true belief that arises out of acts of intellectual virtue from this perspective the challenge in understanding knowledge is not to figure out the causal evidential features common to all and only its instances the challenge is rather to figure out what constitutes intellectual virtue once we know that we'll have all we need to understand what knowledge is zebb ski and other virtue epistemologists have argued that the virtue approach can provide us with a straightforward solution to the Gettier problem what's the difference between a justified true belief that constitutes knowledge and a justified true belief that doesn't constitute knowledge well in a good case the subjects belief is true because of her intellectual virtue in a Gettier case by contrast it's not the case that the subjects belief is true because of her intellectual virtue rather it's true because of dumb luck one debate that has emerged out of this approach concerns how we should understand the notion of a beliefs being true because of the subjects intellectual virtue careful attention to this issue indicates that the solution may not be as straightforward as it first appeared nonetheless zags up skis approach is fruitful and distinctive such it reconfigures the problem as one about the operation of intellectual virtue rather than the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge Ernest Sosa one of the founders of modern virtue epistemology has used the virtue approach to provide a distinctive response to the problem of radical skepticism the radical skeptic argues that since we would be utterly and undetectably deceived in various far-fetched but still possible scenarios we can't know anything that presupposes that such deception is not actually occurring for example if we were the victims of a deceiving God or if we were bodyless brains and that's being stimulated to have the very experiences we actually have we would wrongly believe with just as much confidence as we actually do that we have hands and so the skeptic concludes we can't know that we have hands an adequate spots to this kind of argument requires an explanation for why the fact that such deception as possible does not affect what we can actually know according to sosa knowledge is true belief that is virtuously formed but whether someone is intellectually virtuous is a matter of how her abilities dispositions and character traits equip her to handle the challenges of the actual world how she would respond to situations wildly different from any that she'll ever actually encounter is irrelevant to whether she has some virtue whether a person would cower in fear in the face of an army of highly articulate dinosaurs and space aliens tells us very little about whether she is actually courageous similarly the fact that a subjects actual intellectual character would fail her in the face of some far-fetched science fiction inspired skeptical scenario tells us nothing about whether she's actually intellectually virtuous so in Sosa's view the possibility of massive undetected deception is irrelevant to what she is actually in a position to know virtue epistemology isn't solely devoted to resolving traditional epistemological disputes in a novel way Robert Roberts and J would for example among others have developed detailed analyses of various intellectual virtues and vices including epistemic humility courage caution autonomy and so on Robertson would explicitly draw connections between virtue epistemology on the one hand and ethics and politics religion and spirituality the arts and education on the other hand in their view virtue epistemology can help to restore epistemology to a central place in philosophy and humanistic inquiry more generally one important set of connections between intellectual virtue and ethics and politics has been developed in recent work by Miranda frikar on what she calls epistemic injustice epistemic injustice is fricker's name for wrongs done to people specifically in their capacity as knowers and transmitters of knowledge a central example of the phenomenon is what occurs when a speaker's testimony is afforded low credibility on the basis of prejudice and negative stereotyping for example Tom Robinson the central character and Harper leads to kill a mockingbird is a black man in 1930s Alabama who is falsely accused of raping a white woman Tom's exculpatory testimony was rejected by the all-white jury owing to their white supremacist prejudices they simply cannot believe that a black man would be telling the truth fricker argues that such injustice reflects an intellectual vise and that the remedy is the cultivation of what she calls the virtue of testimonial justice those who exemplify this virtue are able to reliably neutralize prejudice in their judgements of credibility thus treating speakers with the epistemic respect that they deserve fricker develops a detailed account of this virtue and her work indicates that virtue epistemology can play an important role in fighting against various forms of unjust domination and oppression so virtue epistemology is a diverse and growing approach to epistemology that focuses on intellectual character this focus suggests novel approaches to traditional epistemological problems and perhaps more importantly promises to provide normative guidance that will help us better manage our individual and collective intellectual lives