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Virtuous Arguers: Responsible and Reliable

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Virtuous arguers are expected to manifest virtues such as intellectual humility and open-mindedness, but from such traits the quality of arguments does not immediately follow. However, it also seems implausible that a virtuous arguer can systematically put forward bad arguments. How could virtue argumentation theory combine both insights? The solution, I argue, lies in an analogy with virtue epistemology: considering both responsibilist and reliabilist virtues gives us a fuller picture of the virtuous arguer.

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  1. Sosa seems to use both terms interchangeably, at least in his early articles.

  2. It is Sosa’s characterisation of intellectual virtues that most interests me here. The details of his theory of knowledge can be mentioned only briefly.

  3. “A theory of intellectual virtue cannot offer an easy calculus for assessing knowledge and belief claims.” (Code 1984, p. 47).

  4. It seems to me that Battaly’s terminology is biased in that it implies that an epistemological theory must include a definition of knowledge. But, in my view, a theory that focuses in the analysis of epistemic virtues is a theory, even if it is not a definition of knowledge. Nevertheless, Roberts and Wood seem to be comfortable with the assumption that they are not strictly speaking offering a theory (2007, p. 26): “In light of what mostly counts as theory among philosophers today, we prefer to say that we are offering no theory.”

  5. Sosa argues that “the value of apt belief is no less epistemically fundamental than that of true belief” (2007, pp. 87–88). He contrasts the example of the coffee maker with examples of a ballerina and of an archer, where it seems that we would value the performance less were it not a manifestation of skill.

  6. Tracy Bowell drew my attention to this important difference.

  7. I thank Andrew Aberdein for pointing out Battaly’s distinction to me.

  8. I am making an effort to qualify claims such as this because I do not believe that considerations of character are never relevant to the quality of the argument. I am merely claiming that in general they are not relevant. They may be relevant in specific cases, such as defeasible arguments, although only to a limited extent.

  9. Are all argumentative skills reliabilist virtues? In his commentary to my paper, Aberdein points out that, rather than regarding all skills as a special sort of virtue, I should also consider skills that are necessary for the proper exercise of a virtue—a prerequisite. He is right that I have not considered this issue and I am certainly describing reliabilist virtues as if they were simply argument skills. His comment raises an interesting issue that unfortunately I cannot fruitfully address here.

  10. Interestingly, however, Aberdein argues for a virtue approach to argument appraisal. In his commentary to the present paper, he suggests that the virtue of common sense, which he understands as analogous to Aristotle’s phronesis, is associated with the recognition and formulation of good arguments. I must confess this is an intriguing idea. However, as it stands, it still strikes me as a kind of virtue that must be explained in act-based terms.



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This research was possible thanks to a pre-doctoral scholarship of the UNED and to the project FFI2014-53164-P of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2nd European Conference on Argumentation (ECA), in Fribourg, Switzerland. I thank Andrew Aberdein for his commentary and the audience for the fruitful discussion that followed.

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Correspondence to José Ángel Gascón.

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This paper was awarded the Frans van Eemeren Prize for Outstanding Student Paper during the second edition of the European Conference on Argumentation (ECA2017, 20-23 June 2017), held at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

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Gascón, J.Á. Virtuous Arguers: Responsible and Reliable. Argumentation 32, 155–173 (2018).

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