Just the Right Thickness: A Defense of Second-Wave Virtue Epistemology

Philosophical Papers 37 (3):413-434 (2008)
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Abstract Do the central aims of epistemology, like those of moral philosophy, require that we designate some important place for those concepts located between the thin-normative and the non-normative? Put another way, does epistemology need "thick" evaluative concepts and with what do they contrast? There are inveterate traditions in analytic epistemology which, having legitimized a certain way of viewing the nature and scope of epistemology's subject matter, give this question a negative verdict; further, they have carried with them a tacit commitment to what we argue to be an epistemic analogue of the reductionistic centralist thesis which Bernard Williams, in our view, successfully repudiates in ethics. In this essay, we challenge the epistemic analogue of the traditional but mistaken thesis. In offering an alternative to it which provides a comfortable home for the epistemic normativity which attends thick evaluative concepts, we align ourselves with what has been recently called the Value Turn in epistemology. From this perspective, we defend that, contrary to tradition, as influenced by centralist assumptions, epistemology does need thick evaluative concepts. Further, the sort of theories that will be able to give thick evaluative concepts an irreducible role in both belief and agent evaluation are adequately social epistemologies. What loosely refer to as second-wave of virtue epistemology is the widespread interest to provide a comfortable home for the role of thick normativity, as it is connected both with epistemic evaluation, and guidance. We recognize that, in breaking from centralism, there is a worry that a resulting anti-centralist theory will be reductionistic in the other direction, making the thick primary. We contend however that second-wave virtue epistemologies take different sources of social and epistemic value into account; they seek the 'right thickness' to ride with conception of epistemology and a field which due in part to virtue theory's resurgence, is today normative, diverse and expansive than was the traditional set of problems from which it emerged.

Author Profiles

Guy Axtell
Radford University
J. Adam Carter
University of Glasgow


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