Epistemic Value

Friday, August 15, 2008

Value of Knowledge Book

I'm currently working on a book on the value of knowledge, which will be co-authored with Alan Millar and Adrian Haddock. I've just finished drafting my contribution, which I've posted on my homepage. In case you're interested, here are the links:

Chapter One: The Value Problem for Knowledge (pdf)
Chapter Two: Knowledge and Final Value (pdf)
Chapter Three: Anti-Luck Virtue Epistemology (pdf)
Chapter Four: Understanding (pdf)
Bibliography (pdf)

Basically, the first chapter sets up the issues and argues that a complete positive response to the value problem for knowledge requires one to show that knowledge has final value. The second chapter considers the best defence of the final value of knowledge--due to what I call 'robust virtue epistemology--and argues that it fails. The third chapter argues for a new account of knowledge that I call anti-luck virtue epistemology, and looks at how this proposal would deal with the value problem for knowledge, given that it cannot offer a complete positive response to that problem. Finally, the last chapter locates understanding in this debate.

I'm hoping to present this material during my visit to UNAM next month, and no doubt I'll make changes in the light of the feedback I get there. I'm also due to present this at an informal workshop in October in Stirling, at which Wayne Riggs will be commentating (and Ernie Sosa, amongst others, will be in attendance). Accordingly, expect this material to change a lot over the coming months (I'll post alerts if I make any changes).

As always, comments welcome!


  • At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    This is quite a "robust effort"!

    Look Forward to seeing you present at UNAM next month.

  • At 10:50 AM, Blogger Duncan Pritchard said…

    Thanks! See you next week ...

  • At 11:50 PM, Blogger JESÚS ZAMORA BONILLA said…

    Hi, Duncan.
    Here are some comments to Chapter 1. I hope to have time in the next weeks for the rest of the book, which looks great.
    I'll give a talk at Erasmus Univ. Rotterdam on october 8th discussing these arguments.


    Section 2.

    “The primary problem”: it is by no means obvious that knowledge is more valuable than true belief (to say the least, this claim should be supported by arguments, instead of being taken as a premise). People have beliefs, as well as (2nd order) beliefs about how confident they are about the truth of those beliefs, how well justified they are, and so on. On the other hand, people also have epistemic practices, that make them have certain beliefs instead of others. What is valuable for us is to have epistemic practices that lead us as often as possible to true beliefs (the Socratic arguments are easily answered by distinguishing the value of individual beliefs from the value of epistemic practices), and those beliefs that have this ‘pedigree’ are the ones we honorarily (and often mistakenly) call ‘knowledge’. But our giving this honour to them does not entail by any means that they become more valuable.
    I am not claiming that this way of understanding the value of an epistemic state (or an epistemic practice) is the only defensible one, but I think your argument should start by indicating why the opposite view is better.

    “The secondary problem”: A negative answer to the first problem (knowledge is not more valuable than true belief) gives a direct answer to the second.

    “The terciary problem”: The basic, most precious, and distinctive value that our epistemic states must have is just truth; it is obscure to me why you may want that your epistemic states have other additional epistemic features (save those related to the manageability of the system of your beliefs). The different kinds of values you are suggesting here are much more clearly explained (again) just through the distinction between the value we give to an epistemic state, and the value we give to an epistemic practice: obviously, having good and sound epistemic practices is much more important than occasionally having one true belief.

    Section 3. The swamping problem.

    The swamping problem is only a problem if you insist in the ‘intuition’ that a single epistemic state of merely true belief is epistemically better than the corresponding epistemic state in which one additionally knows that the belief is true. But reliabilist (and other epistemological brands, e.g., Bayesians) would deny this ‘intuition’ on the basis of the arguments given above. Again, what one would expect is an argument of why your intuition is more true to the facts than the rival one. At least, when talking about the value of epistemic things, you should clearly distinguishing if you refer to epistemic states or to epistemic procedures.

    There is, however, a simple argument showing that two agents can not have, as their only difference, that one truly beliefs that X whereas the other knows that X. For what makes the second to know, is that he has sound reasons (i.e., he will belief ‘X, because of Y’; e.g., he beliefs ‘Tom is at home, because I have just seen him’, whereas other individual may truly believe that Tom is a home, but having no direct evidence; so, the forme will believe ‘Tom is at home’ and ‘I have just seen Tom at home’). So: the one who knows that X, has necessarily more true beliefs than the one who merely truly believes that X. This can in part explain the illusion (or ‘intuition’) that knowing is better than truly believing.

    Section 5. Epistemic value monism.

    Again, what epistemic properties do you want the system of your beliefs to have? Personally, I want that they are true, and that the system is easy to ‘navigate’ (i.e., that reaching one claim from others is not too hard; this is what I would call ‘understanding’). So, one can deny your proposition (3) while not being an epistemic value monist.
    And, what epistemic properties do you want your epistemic practices to have? I only want they lead to systems of beliefs with the properties just stated.

    Section 6.

    Note that my denying that knowledge is more valuable than true belief has nothing to do with the question about whether the value of knowledge is only practical or not. It has also nothing to do with the discussion about whether that value is ‘fundamental’ or ‘instrumental’. All I have said till now is perfectly valid (I think) if we consider ‘knowledge of the truth’ as an intrinsic and only-theoretical value. (So, there are more than three possible responses to the swamping problem).

    Regarding your comment on pg. 13 (“the detractor of (3) has to argue that no epistemic standing is ever of greater epistemic value relative to true belief. This is strong stuff indeed”), I doubt the stuff is necessarily so strong: the person that has reached a true belief by a sound procedure is evidently in a better epistemic state that the person that has reached the same belief by an unsound procedure; but the reason has nothing to do with that belief (as regards that belief, they are in an exactly equally valuable state), but with the fact that the first person has an epistemic capacity which is more efficient in general that the capacity of the second person.

  • At 12:44 PM, Blogger Duncan Pritchard said…

    Many thanks for these comments Jesus. I'll be working on a new draft of these chapters in the light of various comments I've received over the next few weeks, so I'll put some thought into them then and I'll be in touch.


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