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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Philosophie

SVR: Nastasia Müller: Are Virtues Gradable?

Students’ Lecture Series
Wann 09.01.2019 von 18:15 bis 19:45 (Europe/Berlin / UTC100) iCal
Wo Unter den Linden 6, room 2094


Virtue epistemology is a recent epistemological approach that gives epistemic or intellectual virtues an important or fundamental role. Contrary to traditional epistemological theories, not beliefs but rather epistemic actors and their intellectual and epistemic virtues are the primary object of epistemic evaluation. In the literature two main approaches have emerged: virtue responsibilists and virtue reliabilists, whereby both views have in common that virtues are epistemic excellences.

Virtue reliabilists, on the one hand, conceive of intellectual virtues as stable and reliable cognitive faculties or powers that are helpful for reaching the truth. In this sense, epistemic virtues are roughly any stable and reliable or truth-conducive property of a person, whereby paradigm examples of these cognitive faculties or powers are vision, memory, and introspection.

Virtue responsibilists, on the other hand, conceive of intellectual virtues as good intellectual character traits, as for instance conscientiousness, fair-mindedness, open-mindedness, courage etc. Some virtue responsibilists have attempted to give virtue-based accounts of knowledge or justification. Yet, others have pursued less traditional projects. They, for instance, focus on questions regarding the nature and value of virtuous intellectual character as such, the relation between intellectual virtue and epistemic responsibility.

One feature regarding epistemic virtues seems to be that virtues are gradable. Take for example vision and courage. It makes sense to say that a person has a better vision than another person – maybe because one of them has a visual impairment – or that a person is more courageous than another person – maybe because one of them is more willing to accept the results of an opposing view that is in conflict with her own. Even though this seems uncontroversial and the gradability of virtues is implicitly entailed in most virtue-epistemological work, there is no philosophical theory of the gradability of virtues. Hence, I will give an account of how virtues can be understood as gradable that comes in two steps.

First, regarding virtue reliabilism, I will argue that virtues should best be understood as abilities. If we understand reliabilist-virtues in terms of abilities – for example Sosa and Greco seem to agree with this view – then we can account for the gradability of reliabilist-virtues by using the Success View of Romy Jaster.

In the second step, I will argue that the gradability of responsibilist-virtues can be accommodated in a similar way in which Jaster argues that abilities come in degrees. Yet, capturing in which sense epistemic responsibilist-virtues are gradable is a bit messier: Being properly motivated is the central feature of virtue responsibilism and since proponents disagree about whether virtues require that one reliably gets to true beliefs, there is no modal connection between a (virtuous) action and being properly motivated. The solution, as I will argue is that it is not the exercise of the virtue – meaning a virtuous behavior – that is gradable, but rather the motivation to exercise a particular virtue.


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