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

  • From: "Phil Enns" <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 16 Jun 2004 13:33:11 -0400

Robert Paul wrote:

"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 agree that trust is a virtue which ought to put the brakes on
epistemological activity but these brakes should be engaged at a
particular point.  Clearly the brakes ought to be engaged prior to
asking questions like 'I must have good grounds for believing that I
love my children and they love me'.  However, I would like to think that
there is something useful in asking 'Is one justified in the belief that
one loves ones children' when confronted with the fact that one is
abusing those children.  Or, it seems useful to ask 'Is one justified in
the belief that one is loved by one's significant other' in light of
peculiar actions on the part of that significant other.  In these cases
one might say that the teeth of the epistemological cog engage the
machinery of one's life.  Here the epistemic activity of 'finding out'
coincides with the moral activity of reflecting on either one's own or
another's actions.

It seems to me that trust is something of a mean with regards to
epistemic activity.  One ought not to be too trusting and so trust when
there are sufficient grounds.  However, trust is lost when one insists
on having the best possible grounds for trusting.  I believe that my
children love me and I think that, if pressed, I could give some good
grounds for that belief.  For the most part those grounds would be
identical with the descriptions I would give regarding how I recognize
the love my children have for me.  However, I can imagine that by
insisting that such descriptions are insufficient and wanting more
evidence, I could poison the love my children have for me.  If trust is
a mean, then determining when to be trusting is not an epistemic
question but rather a question of practical judgment, or phronesis.

Perhaps the role of practical judgment is that of determining the place
of trust within the context of the many and varied parts of one's life.
The trust I have in my wife and children will differ from the trust I
have in my good friends as well as acquaintances, strangers, etc.  This
trust will also depend on the context within which I require that trust.
In some things I will trust my acquaintances more than my children
because my children are very young.  None of this can be determined by
reference to 'good grounds' because the decision will be a matter of
judgment, not knowledge.  It seems to me that there is a role for
epistemic virtues but only when at the service of judgment.  In
addition, returning to a point I made in my earlier post, this judgment
functions most effectively when it aims at producing a life that is
oriented towards an end.  That is, judgment is ultimately teleological
and therefore requires some understanding of what is being aimed for.
Without any such end, judgment is ineffectual.

Returning to Robert's post, perhaps what makes the epistemologist's
obsession so destructive is the manner in which it undermines the
ability to make effective judgments regarding the virtues that make our
lives meaningful.  To insist on the best possible grounds for trusting
will result in there being no trust.  Likewise, insisting on no grounds
for trusting will be harmful as well.  When epistemic virtues are at the
service of a properly established judgment, not only is trust possible
but that trust produces happiness.  And don't we all want to be happy?


Sincerely,

Phil Enns
Toronto, ON

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