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Virtue Epistemology: Lackey's objections to a 'deserving credit' view of knowledge



In this essay, I argue that Lackey’s paper ‘Why We Don’t Deserve Credit for Everything We Know’ (2007) successfully argues against the Deserving-Credit-View-of-Knowledge (henceforth, DCVK) [1]. In the following essay, I explicate the DCVK and demonstrate how it yields plausible results insofar as it excludes epistemic-luck of Gettier-cases as being counted as instances of knowledge. I then present the structure of Lackey’s argument, explaining how her counter-example of testimonial knowledge successfully falsifies the DCVK. And finally, I demonstrate how Lackey’s argument succeeds, via her testimony counter-example, whereby the following three objections attempts to salvage the DCVK fail to object insofar as they yield implausible results: (A) weakening credit-theory; (B) a testimony cognitive-faculty (Greco, 2010); (C) denial of Lackey’s testimony case as an instance of knowledge, preventing Lackey’s testimony case as functioning as a counter-example to the DCVK (Riggs, 2009). I then conclude that insofar as these three objections fail to yield plausible results, they fail to salvage the DCVK, and thus Lackey’s argument against the DCVK is successful.



Here I explain the DCVK, and its purported rationale of excluding instances of epistemic-luck involved in Gettier-cases. The DCVK states that knowledge must be reliably justifiable enough to prevent misattributions of knowledge in instances of epistemic-luck. According to this view, knowledge is considered a true belief only if a subject’s acquisition of a true belief is intellectually creditable that subject’s relevant intellectual virtues. If the DCVK is true then instances of epistemic-luck, illustrated in the following Gettier-case, can be excluded from counting as instances of knowledge:

There is a Philosophy party in the Glasgow University library. Professional Philosophers are invited to give talks and attending Philosophy students are required to dress-up as their favourite philosophers. Unbeknownst to student Gary however, he arrives at the Glasgow University library and sees a student dressed as Professor Kelp, causing him to believe Professor Kelp is in the library. Meanwhile the real Professor Kelp happens to be giving a talk in the library, one floor above Gary.



While the Traditional-View-of-Knowledge purports that a justified true belief guarantees knowledge, and thus implausibly credits Gettier-case subjects (such as Gary) with knowledge. Whereas the DCVK does not. The DCVK demands that acquirers of true beliefs are justified via their own relevantly reliable intellectual virtues, and thus must be attributed intellectual credit (henceforth, credit) for knowledge. Thus, Gettier-case subjects, like Gary, are not credited with knowledge because their true belief is not justified by the intellectual virtues required for credit. The DCVK yields implausible results in Gettier-cases, whereby credit (i.e. the involvement of subject’s relevantly reliable intellectual virtues) as a necessary condition for knowledge excludes Gettier-cases as instances of knowledge. However, as will be demonstrated, Lackey (2007) argument against the DCVK demonstrates that credit is not necessary for knowledge in some cases of testimonial knowledge.



In this section, I demonstrate the structure of Lackey’s argument against DCVK via her testimonial knowledge counter-example, which demonstrates that credit is not necessary for knowledge and thus falsifies the DCVK. I then explain how this argument generates implausible results for a view of knowledge. Her argument is structured as follows:


P1. The DCVK:

The DCVK is true only if credit is a necessary condition for a subject S to know true belief p.


P2: DCVK’s explanatory-salience credit-theory [2]:

Subject S deserves credit for true belief p only if S’s relevant reliable cognitive-faculties are the most salient partof the total set of causal factors that give rise to explaining how S came to believe the truth regarding p.


P3. Counter-example:

There are some cases of testimonial knowledge in which S comes to know true belief p without deserving credit (i.e. S’s relevant reliable cognitive faculties are not the most salient part of the total set of causal factors that give rise to explaining how S came to believe the truth regarding p).

P3.1. Testimony Case:

Tatiana wishes to obtain directions to the Science section at a multi-floor bookstore. She looks around, approaches the first adult passer-by that she sees, and asks how to get to her desired book section. The passer-by happens to be a regular who knows this Bookstore extraordinarily well, provides Tatiana with impeccable directions to the Science section by telling her that it is on the back left-corner of the third-floor from the elevator. Tatiana unhesitatingly forms the corresponding true belief. [3]


P4. DCVK is not necessary for knowledge:

Credit of S’s is not a necessary condition for S to know true belief p – i.e. a subject S can know true belief p without deserving intellectual credit.



Conclusion: Therefore, DCVK is false.


The DCVK is plausible insofar as it does not credit Gettier-case subjects (such as Gary) with knowledge because the most salient explanation of how Gettier-case subjects acquire true beliefs are because of epistemic-luck – and not the subjects’ cognitive-faculties. However, in accepting that Tatiana has acquired knowledge of where the Science section is (P3), Lackey’s counter-example falsifies the DCVK by demonstrating that credit is not necessary for knowledge. Thus, Lackey’s counter-example demonstrates that the DCVK is implausible insofar as it is unable to attribute credit of knowledge to subjects (such as Tatiana) in ordinarily plausible instances of knowledge via testimony. This is because the most salient explanation regarding how Tatiana acquires a true belief is that the testifier is a regular of this bookstore – and not Tatiana’s relevant reliable cognitive-facilities (i.e. ¬P2). Therefore, credit is not a necessary condition for knowledge, and the DCVK is false.


Proceeding from Lackey’s argument against the DCVK testimony counter-example, I now evaluate the success of Lackey’s argument by demonstrating how three objections to Lackey fail to salvage the DCVK. The first two objections (A) and (B) attempt to salvage the DCVK by salvaging an attribution of credit to Tatiana and thereby grant her the testimonial knowledge she is denied via: (A) weakening the explanatory-salience credit-theory; or (B), purposing a reliable reception-of-testimony cognitive-faculty (Greco, 2010). The final object (C) attempts to deny Lackey’s testimony case as a counter-example to the DCVK, denying that Tatiana has acquired knowledge (Riggs, 2009). I demonstrate how all three objections fail to generate plausible results, whereby: A) fails in that it even though it allows for testimonial knowledge, it allows for implausible cases of knowledge where epistemic-luck is involved in a Gettier-case subject’s acquisition of a true belief; (B) fails as it sets the standard so high for knowledge, that it excludes other less sophisticated cognisors from ordinarily plausible cases of the transmission of knowledge via testimony; and (C) fails for similar implausible exclusionary results as (B) [i].


Objection (A) purposes weakening the DCVK’s explanatory-salience credit-theory (P2) as follows:

(P2*): Subject S deserves intellectual credit for true belief p only if S’s relevant reliable cognitive-faculties are at least an important necessary part of the total set of causal factors that give rise to explaining how S came to believe the truth regarding p.

Under (P2*), Tatiana’s cognitive-facilities are at least an important necessary part in explaining how she acquired a true belief. Thus, Tatiana’s true belief is credited as knowledge, and the DCVK yields more plausible results in this instance of testimonial knowledge. Consequently, credit remains necessary for knowledge, and is thus the DCVK is not falsified by Lackey. However, (P2*) yields implausible results in which subjects of Gettier-cases are credited with knowledge. For example, according to the DCVK with (P2*), Gary’s true belief is then creditable as knowledge because his cognitive-facilities (such as perception and memory) are at least an important necessary part in explaining how he came a true belief. Thus, objection (A) fails.


Objection (B) purposes that credit can be attributed via a hearer-of-testimony’s reliably relevant testimonial cognitive-faculties “involv[ing] reliable capacities for discriminating reliable sources of testimony from unreliable ones” (Greco, 2010: 81) [4]. Accordingly, testimonial-faculty purports to grant Tatiana credit for knowledge, demonstrating that credit is necessary for knowledge, and therefore saving the DCVK from Lackey’s counter-argument (P3). However, this does not guarantee credit in the required way by (P2) because Tatiana’s so-called testimonial-faculty is not the most salient explanation regarding how she acquires her true belief. Rather, it is still the testifier’s familiarity with the bookstore that explains why Tatiana acquires a true belief. Furthermore, even the DCVK could overcome the failure of (A) such that another formulation of the DSKV’s credit-theory does not depended on explanatory-salience – as attempted by Riggs’ (2009) formulation of a DCVK – implausible results are still present. Ordinarily plausible instances of knowledge by testimony are still excluded as instances of knowledge for less sophisticated cognisors without the requisite testimonial-faculties. For instance, suppose Tatiana (P3.1) was replaced by a four-year-old child called Tatiana-Jr did not yet develop such testimonial-facilities, Tatiana-Jr would be excluded from acquiring knowledge via Lackey’s testimony case – however, children (such as Tatiana-Jr) very plausibly do acquire knowledge via testimony. Thus objection (B) fails.


Finally, objection (C) purposes to deny that Tatiana has acquired knowledge, thus preventing Lackey’s testimony case as functioning as a counter-example to the DCVK (Riggs, 2009: 209). However, this introduces a sceptical-resistance to ordinarily plausible instances of knowledge via testimony in which witnesses of testimony (such as Tatiana) do not take on a testifier’s true beliefs so easily. This objection entails a reductivist position of testimonial knowledge, such that a hearer-of-testimony can acquire knowledge by testimony only if that hearer has non-testimonial justifications for that testifiers’ true belief (Leonard, 2021). In accordance with the DCVK, said justifications are then required to be justified by the first-hand knowledge of a hearer-of-testimony’s, in order that their cognitive-facilities are the most salient explanation of their coming to believe the truth of any testimony. In such a case, Tatiana can neither take on the testifier’s true belief, nor any true beliefs she might encounter from readings her readings in the bookstores’ Science section, until she has acquired their truths, most saliently, because of her own cognitive-facilities. Which even if somehow for Tatiana, excludes less sophisticated cognisors (such as Tatiana-Jr) from acquiring knowledge via testimony – which Tatiana-Jr plausibly does acquire. Thus objection (C) fails for the same exclusionary as objection (B) does.



In conclusion, Lackey’s argument against the DCVK is successfully insofar as the aforementioned objections fail to yield plausible results, and thus fail to salvage the DCVK. Objection (A)’s weakening of credit-theory fails as it implausibly counts Gettier-cases as instances of knowledge; objection (B)’s testimony cognitive-faculty (Greco, 2010) fails as it implausibly excludes less-sophisticated cognisors; and objection (C)’s denial of Lackey’s testimony case as an instance of knowledge, and thus as a functioning counter-example to the DCVK (Riggs, 2009), fails as it also implausibly excludes less-sophisticated cognisors due to its reductivist, first-hand knowledge, demands. [ii]




 



Foot-notes:

[1] The ES credit-theory formulation of the DCVK that Lackey argues against is a modification of Greco’s (2003: 123) minimal conditions of credit (Lackey, 2007: 347). [2] Intellectual virtues are specified as relevant reliable cognitive-faculties (henceforth, cognitive-faculties). [3] P3.1 is an equivalent reformulation of Lackey’s Chicago-visitor testimony counter-example (2007; 352). [4] Henceforth testimonial-faculty.



End-notes:

[i] Consult argument-matrix below for layout of implausible results of objections to Lackey, compared to required plausible results for a view of knowledge.

[ii] This paper was originally submitted for an Epistemology module at the University of Glasgow. I proudly achieved an A1 for this paper, and can only thank none other than the University's excellent department, with admiration for their active research centre for contemporary Epistemology, Cogito [see here for more].



References: Greco, J. “Knowledge as credit for true belief”. In M. DePaul & L. Zagzebski. Intellectual virtue: Perspectives from ethics and epistemology, (2003). (pp.111;134). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Greco, J. “The Nature of Knowledge” In Achieving Knowledge: A Virtue-Theoretic Account of Epistemic Normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (2010). doi:10.1017/CBO9780511844645.

Lackey, J. "Why We Don't Deserve Credit for Everything We Know." Synthese (Dordrecht) 158, no. 3 (2007): 345-361. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27734349.

Riggs, W. "Two Problems of Easy Credit." Synthese (Dordrecht) 169, no. 1 (2009): 201 – 216m. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-008-9342-6.

Leonard, N. "Epistemological Problems of Testimony", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2021/entries/testimony-episprob/>. (last accessed: 21/11/22)

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