Collective Epistemic Agency: Virtue and the Spice of Vice

In Hans Bernhard Schmid, Daniel Sirtes & Marcel Weber (eds.), Collective Epistemology. Ontos (2011)
The paper evaluates Christopher Hookway's claim that individual epistemic vice can enhance the value of collective epistemic virtue. I suggest that this claim can be defended on the grounds of a dynamic account of collective intentional properties that is supplemented by an account of a spontaneous ordering mechanism such as the "intangible hand". Both these accounts try to explain how individual traits integrate into collective traits by way of aggregation. In this respect, they are different from normative and summative accounts of plural subjects. I argue that it is the repeatable and self-amplifying nature of character traits that calls for a dynamic account of collective virtues. With regard to epistemic virtues and their role in the acquisition of knowledge I hold that their dynamic and self-amplifying character warrants their reliability, since it is this character that bottoms out in repeated acts of epistemally correct behavior that constitute a 'responsible practice'. The successful appliance of the latter amplifies the attitude it origins from. If epistemic virtues construed along these lines are attributed to collectives, a dynamic aggregate account supplemented by an account of an "intan-gible hand" device might explain how an aggregate of virtuous efforts of individuals can not only absorb a certain amount of vice but be even enhanced by the 'spice' of some non-intentional epistemically vicious side effects of epistemically virtuous en- deavor.
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