Motivated Cognition in Perception, Memory and Testimony: In Defense of a Responsibilist Version of Virtue Epistemology

Dissertation, Saint Louis University (2004)

Stephen Napier
Villanova University
There is debate among virtue epistemologists concerning what is the nature of an intellectual virtue. Linda Zagzebski in Virtues of the Mind , for instance, argues that an intellectual virtue has both a success and motivational component. Furthermore, Zagzebski defines knowledge with reference to acts of intellectual virtue. An agent S knows p iff S performs an act of intellectual virtue in forming the belief that p. This means that Zagzebski is committed to the counter-intuitive claim that low-grade knowledge requires the agent to be epistemically motivated to form such low-grade beliefs. In this project I look at empirical research in cognitive psychology which suggests that epistemic motivations are involved in low-grade processing. Research on the role of attention in vision and memory suggests that attentional focus is necessary in order to have low-grade knowledge. And research on the relationship between motivation and attentional processing suggests that motivation informs attentional operations. The next step in the argument aims to show that such motivations are epistemic in that they are motivations to attain a cognitive state whose value is alethically related. Thus, one's epistemic motivations are necessary for low-grade knowledge. The second half of my project turns to higher-grade knowledge, i.e., testimony. It is here that I apply Zagzebski's account of knowledge to testimony. I do this to give a heretofore counterexample free definition of testimonial knowledge. Altogether, the project shows how Zagzebski's theory can account for the major modes by which we acquire empirical knowledge.
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