Is Epistemic Anxiety an Intellectual Virtue?

Synthese (5-6):1-25 (2021)
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In this paper, I discuss the ways in which epistemic anxiety promotes well-being, specifically by examining the positive contributions that feelings of epistemic anxiety make toward intellectually virtuous inquiry. While the prospects for connecting the concept of epistemic anxiety to the two most prominent accounts of intellectual virtue, i.e., “virtue-reliabilism” and “virtue-responsibilism”, are promising, I primarily focus on whether the capacity for epistemic anxiety counts as an intellectual virtue in the reliabilist sense. As I argue, there is a close yet unexplored connection between feelings of epistemic anxiety and the form of inference commonly known as “Inference to the Best Explanation” (IBE). Specifically, I argue that both the recognition that some fact requires an explanation—a necessary first step in applying IBE—and the subsequent motivation to employ IBE are typically facilitated by feelings of epistemic anxiety. So, provided IBE is truth-conducive the capacity for epistemic anxiety should count as an intellectual virtue in the reliabilist sense. After outlining my main argument, I address the challenge that the capacity for epistemic anxiety has the potential to be misleading. To respond to this challenge, I discuss how our recognition that a fact requires an explanation must in part be a species of practical knowledge, rather than theoretical knowledge. For the agent to skillfully distinguish between facts that require an explanation and facts that do not, she must develop the virtuous disposition to feel the appropriate amount of epistemic anxiety. Despite the many negative aspects associated with anxiety, as I conclude, being disposed to feel the appropriate amount of epistemic anxiety is ultimately good for us.

Author's Profile

Frank Cabrera
University of Wisconsin, Madison (PhD)


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