[lit-ideas] Re: Sick dogs and virtue epist.

  • From: Robert.Paul@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Robert Paul)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: 15 Jun 2004 14:30:42 PDT

Phil Enns wrote:

'People have a moral responsibility to care whether their beliefs are justified
and act accordingly.' I know that this is by no means all of what Phil wrote,
but it interested me, and suggested the following.

I believe that my children love me. They also report that they believe I love
them. Could we all be deceived--that is, could I be mistaken in thinking that my
children love me, and they mistaken in thinking that I love them? Of course.
This is the 'of course' of the epistemologist, or the logician (or the sceptic):
it is _possible_ that we are each of us deceived about who loves whom, possible
up to the point at which each of us has the relevant set of justified true
beliefs that take us all the way to knowledge.

However, given that it is, so far, logically possible that each of us is
mistaken, shouldn't we individually seek to put ourselves, as knowers, in the
best possible epistemic position, or, to put it another way, shouldn't we, as
seekers of truth or whatever, be obliged to try to replace our mere beliefs with

I am not asking, in a general way, whether one ought to try to replace all of
our mere beliefs with knowledge (although I think that the answer here is that
we should not) but whether in this particular case we should. Neither am I
suggesting that it could not turn out to be false that my children love me; or
that I might someday come to suspect that they did not; nor am I suggesting that
it would 'be better not to ask,' for fear that one of them should be overcome by
a fit of honesty and reveal the unpleasant truth, such that in believing in some
'unjustified' way that my children love me (and conversely) we are all acting
out of a kind of bad faith.

What I am suggesting is that there is a virtue, trust, which seems to block the
epistemological obsession with _finding out_, with 'believing on good
grounds'--indeed, on the _best possible_ grounds--whether or not I love my
children and they love me, in such a way that one not only may but ought, in
such a case, to rid oneself of the neurosis of epistemology. 

I say 'in such a case.' What do I mean by this? I confess I'm not quite sure.
The cases I have in mind are those in which human relations depend on such
things as trust, loyalty, acceptance, and something for which I have no name,
but which is captured by the notion that there are persons will stand by one,
even in desperate circumstances, and whom one will stand by in return. This is a
terribly thin account of what I'm concerned with, but in trying to spell it out
more completely, I found that I was telling such a complicated story that there
were nothing but details and no plot. So, I'll stop, in hopes of finding help.

I'd like some way to support the intuition that in certain cases, such as the
case of trust between parent and child, what I've called the epistemologist's
obsession is not only misplaced, but is destructive of some other human virtue,
and yet avoid the obvious reply that there is trust and _trust_ and that not to
bother to inform oneself is as destructive as a desire to know completely,
once-and-for-all. (To say that 'trust' just does rule out any further
investigation will not solve my problem.) Perhaps there is a mean between
gullibility and refuting the sceptic; but in any case, I think there's more to
be said about where and when we ought to make use of our epistemic virtues, if
we have them. 

Robert Paul
The Reed Institute
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