SH26 Virtue Epistemology

This course will survey and critically engage with a range of topics in contemporary virtue epistemology. Virtue epistemology is an approach to epistemology (roughly: the theory of knowledge) that gives intellectual virtues an important theoretical role. But what is an intellectual virtue? The question is itself controversial within virtue epistemology.

For example, on one school of thought—virtue reliabilism (e.g., Greco 2003; 2010; 2012; Sosa 2007; 2011; 2015)—intellectual virtues are best understood as reliable cognitive faculties, paradigmatic instances of which include vision, memory, introspection, etc. Virtue reliabilists typically analyse (propositional) knowledge in terms of intellectual virtue: roughly, one knows a proposition only when one’s believing that proposition truly is primarily explained by, or manifests, one’s exercise of intellectual virtue. Both Greco and Sosa think that this ‘success through virtue’ approach has important advantages over rival accounts: it solves the Gettier problem, and further, provides resources for explaining why we should value knowledge more so than mere true opinion that falls short of knowledge. (Unsurprisingly, both of these claimed advantages are contentious).

The other leading school of thought within the wider virtue epistemology program—virtue responsibilism (e.g., Baehr 2011; Battaly 2015)—focuses not on faculties (such as vision and memory) but on character traits, such as open-mindedness, intellectual courage, intellectual fairness, etc. According to virtue responsibilists, what is distinctive about intellectual virtues is not that they reliably produce true beliefs, but rather that individuals with these traits are characteristically motivated in certain intellectually praiseworthy ways. Although some virtue responsibilists, such as Zagzebski (e.g., 1996), have attempted to analyse propositional knowledge, in terms of (responsibilist) intellectual virtues, virtue responsibilists are also interested in intellectual character traits for their own sake (regardless of their connection to knowledge).  One increasingly lively research project within the virtue responsibilist paradigm has been to give detailed accounts of particular intellectual virtues, with recent emphasis on open-mindedness (e.g., Roberts and Woods 2007; Baehr 2011) and intellectual humility (Whitcomb et al 2015; Church & Samuelson 2016).

 Contemporary virtue epistemology covers a range of often interconnected ‘sub-themes’. The specific sub-themes this course will investigate are:

  • Motivations for virtue epistemology: We will explore how virtue epistemology has been motivated as a strategy for navigating past the impasses between epistemic internalism and epistemic externalism (Zagzebski 1996) and between foundationalism and coherentism (Sosa 1980).
  • The structure of intellectual virtues: We will compare and contrast Zagzebski’s Aristotelian model of the structure of intellectual virtue with Sosa’s (2015, passim) ‘Triple S’ model; also considered will be the recent ‘situationist’ challenge to (non-sceptical versions of) these models on the basis of empirical work in moral psychology (e.g., Alfano 2012; 2014).
  • Knowledge as success through virtue: Two leading analyses of propositional knowledge in terms of intellectual virtue will be compared and contrasted: Greco’s causal-explanatory account and Sosa’s manifestation account. Of particular interest will be how each account understands the ‘through’ or ‘because of’ locution differently in the motto that knowledge is true belief ‘through’ or ‘because of’ intellectual virtue.
  • Virtue epistemology, credit and luck—two counterexamples. Perhaps the two most well-known alleged counterexamples to the template virtue-theoretic analysis of knowledge are Lackey’s (2007) counterexample via testimony in epistemically friendly environments and Pritchard’s (2012) counterexample via environmental epistemic luck. Both counterexamples will be outlined and critiqued.
  • Reflective knowledge: Sosa’s influential virtue epistemology relies on a distinction between what he calls animal and reflective knowledge; we will consider carefully how this distinction is supposed to work and how it relates to Sosa’s more recent (2015) thinking about fully apt judgment.
  • Virtue epistemology and the value problem: We’ll consider some recent defences and criticisms of various attempts by virtue epistemologists to argue that knowledge (understood as success through virtue) is epistemically valuable in a way that epistemic standings that fall short of knowledge (e.g., mere true belief) are not.
  • Virtue responsibilism: Two leading virtue responsibilist proposals—viz., Battaly’s motivationalist account and Baehr’s personal-worth account—will be compared, contrasted and evaluated.
  • Responsibilism and individual character traits: We will engage with some recent work on the specific intellectual character virtues, taking open-mindedness and intellectual humility as our case studies. In particular, we will be exploring the nature open-mindedness and intellectual humility with an eye to different explanations for what makes these traits epistemically valuable to possess.

New directions: extended and collective virtue epistemology: According to the hypothesis of extended cognition (e.g., Clark & Chalmers 1998), some cognitive processes can criss-cross the boundaries of brain, body and world. Might some intellectual virtues likewise ‘extend’? We will examine this question by considering some recent defences (and critique) of extended intellectual virtues, including distributed intellectual virtues, as explored in the literature on collective epistemology.

Course lecturer: Dr J. Adam Carter
Semester: 2
Lecture hour & venue: see Honours timetable

Teaching resources for this course will be made available on the Philosophy Moodle site.

Sample Readings:

Alfano, Mark (2012). ‘Expanding The Situationist Challenge To Responsibilist Virtue Epistemology’, Philosophical Quarterly 62 (247):223-249.

Alfano, Mark (2014). ‘Extending the Situationist challenge to Reliabilism about Inference. In Abrol Fairweather & Owen Flanagan (eds.), Virtue Epistemology Naturalized, Synthese Library 103-122.

Baehr, Jason (2009). ‘Evidentialism, Vice, and Virtue’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 78 (3):545-567.

Baehr, Jason (2011). The Inquiring Mind: On Intellectual Virtues and Virtue Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Battaly, Heather (2008). ‘Virtue epistemology’, Philosophy Compass 3 (4):639-663.

Church, Ian M. & Samuelson, Peter L. (2016). Intellectual Humility: An Introduction to the Philosophy and Science. Bloomsbury Academic.

Greco, John (2003). ‘Knowledge as Credit for True Belief’. In Michael DePaul & Linda Zagzebski (eds.), Intellectual Virtue: Perspectives from Ethics and Epistemology.  Oxford University Press, 111-134.

Greco, John (2009). ‘Knowledge and Success From Ability’, Philosophical Studies 142 (1): 17 - 26.

Greco, John (2007). ‘The Nature of Ability and the Purpose of Knowledge’, Philosophical Issues 17 (1):57–69.

Greco, John and Turri, John. (2015). ‘Virtue Epistemology’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Lackey, Jennifer (2007). ‘Why We Don't Deserve Credit for Everything we Know’, Synthese 158 (3):345--361.

Pritchard, Duncan (2012). ‘Anti-Luck Virtue Epistemology’, Journal of Philosophy 109 (3):247-279.

Pritchard, Duncan (2010). ‘Cognitive Ability and the Extended Cognition Thesis’, Synthese 175 (1):133-151.

Sosa, Ernest (1980). ‘The Raft and the Pyramid: Coherence versus Foundations in the Theory of Knowledge’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy 5 (1):3-26.

Sosa, Ernest. 2007. A Virtue Epistemology: Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge, Ch. 2 and 5.

Sosa, Ernest. 2015. Judgment and Agency, Ch. 3.

Whitcomb, Dennis; Battaly, Heather; Baehr, Jason & Howard‐Snyder, Daniel (2015). ‘Intellectual Humility: Owning Our Limitations’, Philosophy and Phenomenological        Research 91 (1).

Zagzebski, Linda (2000). From Reliabilism to Virtue Epistemology. The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy 5:173-179.

Zagzebski, Linda (1996). ‘Part 1: The Methodology of Epistemology’, in Virtues of the Mind, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-76.


Aims: To introduce students to one of the most popular and flourishing areas of research within contemporary analytic epistemology—viz., virtue epistemology.



 Students who have completed this course should be able to:

1. State the key characteristics of virtue epistemology as an approach to epistemological theorising.

2. Explain and critically assess virtue reliabilist and virtue responsibilist paradigms within virtue epistemology.

3. Explain and critically assess virtue-epistemological approaches to analysing propositional knowledge.

4. Explain and critically assess virtue-epistemological approaches to solving the Gettier and value problems.

5. Explain and critically assess virtue responsibilist analyses of the nature and value of openmindedness and intellectual humility.


These skills will be demonstrated by a written essay and examination.