Virtue Epistemology

August 23, 2012 — Leave a comment

From Noah Lemos – An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge

Virtue Epistemology emphasizes the role of intellectual virtues in knowledge and justification. The focus of this chapter is the theory put forward by Ernest Sosa.

“While reliabilism holds that beliefs enjoy a positive epistemic status in virtue of being the product of a reliable cognitive process, Sosa’s virtue approach maintains that beliefs enjoy a positive epistemic status in virtue of being the product of a truth conducive intellectual virtue.” (p98)

Sosa distinguishes between two kinds of positive epistemic states: aptness and justification. A belief is apt in virtue of its being the product of a truth conducive intellectual virtue. A belief is justified in virtue of its coherence. Sosa is accepting the epistemic merits behind both coherentism and reliabilism and their guiding intuitions through this distinction.

What is an intellectual virtue?

In general, an excellence of some kind, either innate or acquired. A disposition, skill, or competence that makes one good at achieving some goal. A skillful result vs. a lucky result. It can be thought of in terms of ‘avoiding error’.

This constitutes a reliable belief forming process. However, to attain the status of an intellectual ‘virtue’, the established disposition must have some bearing on relevant real-life knowledge situations. This is ‘aptness’ over ‘justification’. Justification is a matter of coherence, aptness a matter of the intellectual virtue that yields it. Sosa is introducing a supplement to justified belief, which is aptness. Aptness is necessary for knowledge in addition to justification.

“First, knowledge requires not just any reliable mechanism of belief formation, it requires that belief derive from an intellectual virtue. Second, it distinguishes between aptness and justification. An apt belief is one derived from an intellectual virtue, whereas a justified belief is one that fits coherently within the perspective of the believer.. Third, it distinguishes between animal and reflective knowledge. For the former, apt true belief is sufficient. Reflective knowledge requires not only belief that is true and apt, but also belief that is justified, that fits coherently within the subject’s epistemic perspective.” (p104)

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