Ernest Sosa

Ernest Sosa

Ernest Sosa received his Ph.D. from University of Pittsburgh. Recent books include: A Virtue Epistemology (OUP, 2007), Reflective Knowledge (OUP, 2009), Knowing Full Well (Princeton, 2011). He taught at Brown University from 1964 to 2007. He is the editor of Nous, Philosophical Issues, and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.

Responsible Character and Reliable Competence: the Unity of Virtue Epistemology

Abstract of book proposal by Ernest Sosa for Templeton Intellectual Humility grant Epistemic Agency


Epistemology is the study of knowledge, of what it is to know, and of closely related phenomena. The virtue epistemology to be developed in this book concerns knowledge of a basic “animal” form, along with higher levels of “reflective” knowledge, all within a framework of performance normativity encompassing, not only judgments and beliefs, but performances generally, those constitutively aimed at a certain outcome.

The book aims to develop that account of human knowledge by taking up issues of metaphysics and ethics (broadly conceived) that arise for it.

Part I: The Unity of Virtue Epistemology

The first chapter, “The Unity of Action, Perception, and Knowledge,” places our approach within a broader inquiry into the nature of human attainments more generally, whether they take the form of action, perception, or knowledge. The chapter ends by sketching a methodology appropriate for our inquiry. Chapter 1 thus presents a form of virtue epistemology, a virtue reliabilism with epistemic competence at its core.

Chapter 2, “Virtue Epistemology: Character versus Competence,” is a comparative study of the two sorts of virtue epistemology now widely recognized. According to this chapter, reliabilist, competence-based virtue epistemology must be understood broadly, in a positively ecumenical way, with responsibilist agential intellectual virtues at its core. Part 11: Knowledge and Agency

Chapter 3, “Knowledge and Action,” distinguishes a kind of knowledge generally involved even in simple, ordinary means-end human action, and explores how Aristotelian virtue ethics fits within a framework of action that is often thus knowledge-dependent.

Chapter 4, “Epistemic Agency,” is about varieties of epistemic agency, and about how such agency is related to normativity, freedom, reasons, competence, and skepticism.

Part III: The Social Roots of Judgment and Knowledge.
<br An Essay in Social Epistemology

This part, with three chapters, is focused on a distinctively judgmental sort of belief, and on the epistemic benefits of the phenomenon and of its recognition.

Chapter 5, “Human Knowledge and Belief,” argues that judgment is a form of action, one subject to normative evaluation. It is a kind of affirmation, one performed in the endeavor to affirm correctly, with truth. Dispositions to affirm have obvious importance for a collaborative, information-sharing species, which plausibly makes them subject to social norms for the storage and sharing of information. Thus are we able to understand the sort of affirmation that is socially important and normatively required in the epistemic domain.

Chapter 6, “Epistemic Agency and Judgment,” takes up further issues of epistemic judgment. Not just any disposition to affirm counts as judgmental belief. What you really believe (judgmentally) must be something you are disposed to affirm if and when your intention is epistemically pure and disinterested, and aimed at attaining truth.

Chapter 7, “The Social Roots of Human Knowledge,” develops further the view of judgment and judgmental belief introduced in the preceding chapter. It offers an account of human knowledge and belief as constitutively social.

Part IV: Epistemic Competence and Human Knowledge

The title of Chapter 8, “A Theory of Competence,” well describes its contents: a theory of competence aimed to fit our AAA virtue epistemology, with its central notion of the apt belief, whose correctness manifests the pertinent epistemic competence of the believer.

Chapter 9, “Epistemic Competence and Varieties of Knowledge” offers a competence-based theory of knowledge, and applies it to an array of examples prominent in the epistemology of recent years and decades.

Part V: Epistemic Normativity

Chapter 10, titled “Causation and Epistemic Normativity,” goes into the importance of causation for philosophy generally, and into its bearing on the distinctive value of knowledge in human life.

Chapter ll, “Knowledge and Wisdom,” aims to illuminate a kind of wisdom proper to epistemology, and to highlight its distinctive value.

Part VI, finally, discusses in two chapters two main historical antecedents, namely the epistemology developed in ancient times by the Pyrrhonians, first, and then Cartesian epistemology, which we owe to the genius of Rene Descartes.