Philosophical Studies

, Volume 168, Issue 3, pp 665–692 | Cite as

Vicious minds

Virtue epistemology, cognition, and skepticism
  • Lauren OlinEmail author
  • John M. Doris


While there is now considerable anxiety about whether the psychological theory presupposed by virtue ethics is empirically sustainable, analogous issues have received little attention in the virtue epistemology literature. This paper argues that virtue epistemology encounters challenges reminiscent of those recently encountered by virtue ethics: just as seemingly trivial variation in context provokes unsettling variation in patterns of moral behavior, trivial variation in context elicits unsettling variation in patterns of cognitive functioning. Insofar as reliability is a condition on epistemic virtue, we have reason to doubt that human beings possess the cognitive materials required for epistemic virtue, and thereby reason to think that virtue epistemology is threatened by skepticism. We conclude that while virtue epistemology has resources for addressing this challenge, exploiting these resources forces tradeoffs between empirical and normative adequacy.


Virtue epistemology Cognition Reliabilism Responsibilism Skepticism Situationism Psychology 



For fruitful discussion, we are indebted to audiences from the 2009 meeting of the Society for Empirical Ethics at the Pacific APA, Simine Vazire’s Personality and Self-Knowledge lab at Washington University in St. Louis, the Fall 2009 Meeting of the Moral Psychology Research Group, and the annual meeting of the North Carolina Philosophical Society in 2012. Thanks especially to Edouard Machery, Gilbert Harman, Jesse Prinz, Steve Stich, Guy Axtell, José Bermúdez, Jacob Beck, Santiago Amaya and Roy Sorenson for productive conversations, and to Mark Alfano, Mike Bishop, Richard Otte, Shaun Nichols, Abrol Fairweather and three anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program, Department of PhilosophyWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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