What are the virtues of virtue epistemology?

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




William P. Alston


Virtue epistemology, Intellectual virtues, Morality

Subject Categories

Epistemology | Philosophy


Unlike much of contemporary analytic epistemology, virtue epistemology focuses on the intellectual virtues and vices of an agent rather than her justified beliefs or knowledge. By and large, contemporary virtue epistemologists are interested in explaining justified belief and knowledge in terms of the intellectual virtues. In contrast, justification-and knowledge based theorists will explain the intellectual virtues in terms of justification or knowledge, if they address the virtues at all.

I begin my evaluation of virtue epistemology by evaluating four proposed reasons for pursuing virtue epistemology, each of which has an ethical analogue. I then examine the nature of the intellectual virtues. I contend that there is diversity amongst the virtues. Though all of the virtues are acquired, some of them are much more lie skills than others. Some require virtuous motivations while others require reliability. In conclusion, I suggest that Montmarquet's analysis of epistemic justification and Zagzebski's analysis of knowledge are inadequate. There will be no single simple formula. for defining justification or knowledge in terms of the virtues.

Part I : Chapters 1, 2, and 3 . Virtue ethicists have long argued that their approach to ethics circumvents some of the problems plaguing act-based theories. I identify four such problems, and evaluate the ability of virtue epistemology to avoid analogous difficulties that arise for pure justification- and knowledge-based views. Though virtue epistemology is better suited to explain understanding and those aspects of our epistemic lives that are uncodifiable, it is no better at explaining the social factors in individual knowledge or at avoiding the internalist-externalist debate.

Part II : Chapters 4, 5 and 6 . I argue that though all of the intellectual virtues are acquired, some, like the disposition to recognize salient facts are much more like skills than others. They are like skills because they do not require virtuous motivations. Other virtues, like open-mindedness, require a motivation for truth, but do not require reliability. Accordingly, there will be no single simple formula that defines knowledge or justification in terms of the intellectual virtues.


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