Sosa on epistemic value: a Kantian obstacle

Synthese (12):5287-5300 (2018)
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Abstract
In recent work, Sosa proposes a comprehensive account of epistemic value based on an axiology for attempts. According to this axiology, an attempt is better if it succeeds, better still if it is apt (i.e., succeeds through competence), and best if it is fully apt, (i.e., guided to aptness by apt beliefs that it would be apt). Beliefs are understood as attempts aiming at the truth. Thus, a belief is better if true, better still if apt, and best if fully apt. I raise a Kantian obstacle for Sosa’s account, arguing that the quality or worth of an attempt is independent of whether it succeeds. In particular, an attempt can be fully worthy despite being a failure. I then consider whether Sosa’s competence-theoretic framework provides the resources for an axiology of attempts that does not place so much weight on success. I discuss the most promising candidate, an axiology grounded in the competence of attempts, or what Sosa calls adroitness. An adroit attempt may fail. I raise doubts about whether an adroitness-based axiology can provide a plausible explanation of the worthiness of subjects’ beliefs in epistemically unfortunate situations, such as the beliefs of the brain in a vat. I conclude by speculating that the notion of a belief’s fit with what the subject has to go on, a notion missing from Sosa’s competence-theoretic framework, is crucial to explaining epistemic worth.
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Archival date: 2018-03-10
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2018-02-19

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