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Apt performance and epistemic value

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  1. Sosa (2007). All page references given in the text are to this book.

  2. I say ‘somehow’ because it is an open question how the component values are combined in knowledge to create the overall value of knowledge. Ordinarily at least, one cannot simply add values together to find their sum.

  3. In essence, this is the ‘swamping’ problem much discussed in the contemporary literature. For discussion, see especially Kvanvig (2003), who attributes the problem to Swinburne (1999; 2000). See also Zagzebski (2003). For scepticism about the ‘coffee cup’ case, see Goldman and Olsson (forthcoming). I critically discuss the swamping problem at length in Pritchard (forthcomingc).

  4. Note that, as far as I am aware, Sosa never himself describes this value as final non-intrinsic value, though I take it from what he does say about this type of value that it is uncontroversial to describe his view in these terms. For more discussion of final non-intrinsic value, see Rabinowicz and Roennow-Rasmussen (1999; 2003). The general line of objection to the swamping argument just described can be found in an embryonic form in Percival (2003), and in a more explicit form in Brogaard (2007) and Pritchard (2008b). The first explicit statement of this line of objection that I’m aware of was in a talk that Sosa gave at the Virtue Epistemology conference I ran with Michael Brady at the University of Stirling in 2004. For an overview of the recent literature on epistemic value, see Pritchard (2007c; 2007d).

  5. How is this ‘because of’ relation to be understood? Sosa does not say. The natural way to read it is in causal explanatory terms, such that the agent’s adroitness is the best explanation of the agent’s cognitive success, his accuracy. This is the type of reading that Greco (2007; forthcominga; forthcomingb) opts for in his virtue-theoretic account of the value of knowledge, which he derives from earlier work by Sosa, and in places Sosa seems to take this line himself (see, for example, p. 96, where Sosa diagnoses why knowledge is lacking in the Nogot case by explicitly appealing to the fact that the agent’s adroitness does not explain the correctness of the target belief). It is clear from other things that Sosa says on this matter, however––and this has been confirmed to me in conversation––that his actual view is very different, and makes appeal to the idea of a power. It would take us too far afield to get into the subtleties of this issue here. For more discussion of the explanatory account of the ‘because of’ relation in this context, see Greco (2007; forthcominga; forthcomingb) and Pritchard (2008b; forthcominga).

  6. The locus classicus for discussions of safety is, of course, Sosa (1999). For further discussion of the safety principle, see Pritchard (Pritchard 2002; 2005, ch. 6; 2007a; 2007b).

  7. It should be clear from the foregoing that, unlike Lackey (2007), I do not think that innate knowledge is even possible, at least where that is construed in such a way that it involves a true belief that is not even in part the product of the agent’s reliable cognitive ability.

  8. Indeed, the attractions of the view do not end there, since it can account for a lot of our other intuitions about knowledge as well. For more discussion of anti-luck virtue epistemology, see Pritchard (2008a; 2008b).

  9. That said, I think that this view can adequately account for epistemic value, albeit in a way that does not take our intuitions about the value of knowledge at face value. For more on this point, see Pritchard (2008b; forthcomingb).

  10. An earlier version of this paper formed part of a symposium on Sosa’s work that featured in the 2nd Annual On-Line Philosophy Conference (OPC2). I am grateful to Adam J. Carter and Ram Neta for comments on a previous version. Special thanks go to Ernie Sosa for extensive discussion on issues relating to this paper.


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Pritchard, D. Apt performance and epistemic value. Philos Stud 143, 407–416 (2009).

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