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(Joint) achievements and the value problem

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In The Transmission of Knowledge (2021), Greco departs significantly from his earlier view of all knowledge as an individual achievement of the knower, allowing that in some testimonial knowledge cases (cases of “transmission”), a hearer’s believing truly will be due to competent joint agency, between herself and the speaker. Greco argues that the new, hybrid view of knowledge as individual or joint achievement is still sufficiently unified and – importantly – still provides a satisfying answer to the value problem for knowledge. I will raise some worries for this latter claim. I begin by raising worries about Greco’s earlier answer to the value problem: that knowledge is distinctively valuable as an (individual’s) achievement. I then argue that these worries are not allayed by expanding the account of knowledge to include joint achievements and indeed are perhaps aggravated by this new move.

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  1. Aristotle opens his Metaphysics (1988) with the claim, “All men by nature desire to know.” There is some doubt about whether the knowledge Aristotle had in mind is more like what epistemologists today would call ‘understanding.’

  2. Cf., e.g., Kaplan (1985), Pritchard’s (2010) “secondary” and “tertiary” value problems, Kvanvig (2003).

  3. That said, Greco still seems committed to thinking it’s a good thing for an account of knowledge to be able to show how it is distinctly valuable relative to justified true belief. This ability is something he claims for his own account (Greco 2010: Chap. 6).

  4. Cf. Pritchard (2010: 7–8).

  5. Cf. Fricker (2009).

  6. It is perhaps worth noting that some agent reliabilists (or reliabilist virtue epistemologists) make only a weaker claim for the value of achievements. For Sosa (2007), for example, successes through ability are “good” performances in an attributive sense of goodness. They are good instances of their kinds; they are good qua the sort of performance they are. Sosa – unlike Greco – leaves it officially an open question whether they are good simpliciter, or absolutely. See Sosa (2007: 73 − 4); also Ridge (2013).

  7. E.g.: “Take any domain of human intentional performance… In any such domain, achievement is creditable to the extent that it is through competence rather than luck.” Sosa (2015: 72).

  8. I say suggest, rather than entail, mostly because one could hold the agent reliabilist’s P2 as true of the generics “knowledge” and “belief” without accepting a similar claim about tokens of knowledge. This is not however, to my knowledge, a popular understanding of agent reliabilism.

  9. Phone book example from Goldman (1999: 88).

  10. Notice that the explanation cannot be that “important” knowledge has greater practical value, and this for two reasons. First, important or significant content needn’t be practically useful, and trivial content may come in very handy. Second, we are talking about differences in the distinctive value of knowledge, relative to true belief. The practical value of knowing your partner’s favorite song rather than merely having a true belief about this isn’t necessarily greater than the practical value of knowing there are three drawers in the file cabinet rather than merely truly believing. Indeed, many think knowledge isn’t more practically valuable than true belief anyway; this is the classic puzzle Socrates raises about the Road to Larissa. Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for raising this issue.

  11. Zagzebski (2008).

  12. Such an answer to the value problem fits naturally with “knowledge-first” theories, popularized by Williamson (2000).

  13. See, e.g., Hyman (2010), Hawthorne & Stanley (2008).

  14. Thanks to an anonymous referee for prompting clarity on this point.

  15. Of course, the agent reliabilist might maintain that any off-putting odor is misleading and that we really should value knowledge as an achievement – indeed, that valuing knowledge as an achievement just is valuing knowledge for its own sake, since that’s what knowledge is. But to say this is not to solve the value problem. A solution to the value problem must explain our intuitive or pre-theoretic desire for knowledge – not coach us to desire knowledge in a new way or for new reasons.

  16. Soccer analogies appear in Greco’s earlier work as well; see (2021: 52 − 3) for citations.

  17. This is also salient in (2021: Chap. 7), where Greco discusses the transmission of understanding.

  18. See especially Lackey (2007, 2009).

  19. Again, see Hyman (2010).


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I am grateful to Charity Anderson and Blake Roeber for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. I am also grateful to Tim Williamson and John Hyman for long-prior discussions about the value problem, which greatly influenced this paper.

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Correspondence to Laura Frances Callahan.

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Callahan, L.F. (Joint) achievements and the value problem. Synthese 201, 61 (2023).

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  • John Greco
  • Virtue epistemology
  • Value problem
  • Agent reliabilism
  • Achievement