Natural epistemic defects and corrective virtues
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Cognitive psychologists have uncovered a number of natural tendencies to systematic errors in thinking. This paper proposes some ways that intellectual character virtues might help correct these sources of epistemic unreliability. We begin with an overview of some insights from recent work in dual-process cognitive psychology regarding ‘biases and heuristics’, and argue that the dozens of hazards the psychologists catalogue arise from combinations and specifications of a small handful of more basic patterns of thinking. We expound four of these, and sketch how they conspire to produce the myriad biases, heuristics, and illusions. We then offer accounts of two character virtues—self-vigilance and intellectual vitality—and explain how these virtues could help correct our error-prone thinking. The self-vigilant person appreciates her vulnerability to natural epistemic defects, is on the watch for cues to the working of these possible error-makers, and intelligently acts to correct for them. The intellectually vital person is naturally or has learned to be energetic, active, alert, attentive, and inquisitive, contrary to the natural tendency to cognitive laziness. We suggest that these intellectual virtues, like the moral virtues, will cluster in the personality, and will tend to be mutually reinforcing and mutually recruiting, even as each has its own corrective function.
KeywordsIntellectual virtue Virtue epistemology Cognitive psychology Biases and heuristics
Thanks to audiences at Baylor University and Calvin College, to Alex Pruss and Jay Wood, and to two anonymous reviewers for Synthese for very helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper. Roberts gratefully acknowledges the support of the Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, NJ, during part of the work on this paper.
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