Virtues of inquiry and the limits of reliabilism

Social Epistemology 20 (1):117 – 128 (2006)
Abstract
This paper argues that the best way to think about intellectual norms, or an ethics of belief, is by reflecting on the virtues and vices of inquiry. A theory of intellectual virtue provides a promising framework for evaluating different practices of inquiry in relation to the generic aim of truth. However, intellectual virtues are too often conflated with measures of reliability in mainstream epistemology, resulting in an overly narrow conception of epistemic value. Prominent reliabilists such as Alvin Goldman state that a practice of inquiry is virtuous just in case it maximizes true belief. I argue that this reliabilist interpretation of virtue lacks the resources to explain evaluative distinctions between ways of maximizing true belief, such as the difference between maximizing accuracy and maximizing precision. With the aid of examples, I show that praiseworthy attributions of reliability are parasitic on attributions of topic-specific aims and skills that constitute their own characteristic standards of success, suggesting that bare truth-maximization is not the fundamental criterion of epistemic value. To accommodate the full range of intellectual norms that shape our practices, I conclude that we need a concept of virtue thicker than mere reliability.
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