Hybrid Virtue Epistemology and the A Priori

In Dylan Dodd & Elia Zardini (eds.), The A Priori: Its Significance, Sources, and Extent. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract

How should we understand good philosophical inquiry? Ernest Sosa has argued that the key to answering this question lies with virtue-based epistemology. According to virtue-based epistemology, competences are prior to epistemic justification. More precisely, a subject is justified in having some type of belief only because she could have a belief of that type by exercising her competences. Virtue epistemology is well positioned to explain why, in forming false philosophical beliefs, agents are often less rational than it is possible to be. False philosophical beliefs are often unjustified—and the agent is thereby less rational for having them—precisely because these beliefs could not be formed by exercising competences. But, virtue epistemology is not well positioned to explain why, in failing to form some true philosophical beliefs, agents are less rational than it is possible to be. In cases where agents fall short by failing to believe philosophical truths, the problem is not that they believe things they shouldn’t, but that they lack beliefs they ought to have. We argue that Timothy Williamson's recent critique of the a priori/a posteriori distinction falls prey to similar problem cases. Williamson fails to see that a type of belief might be a priori justified if and only if, even without any special confirming experiences, agents fall short by failing to have this type of belief. We conclude that there are types of beliefs that are deeply a priori justified for any agent regardless of what epistemic competences the agent has. However, we also point out that this view has a problem of its own: it appears to make the acquisition of a priori knowledge too easy. We end by suggesting that a move back towards virtue-based epistemology is necessary. But in order for this move to be effective, epistemic competences will have to be understood very differently than in the reliabilist tradition.

Author's Profile

Jonathan Ichikawa
University of British Columbia

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