Alston, Aristotle, and Epistemic Normativity (pages 75-92)

Benjamin W. McCRAW

ABSTRACT: Alston (2005) argues that there is no such thing as a single concept of epistemic justification. Instead, there is an irreducible plurality of epistemically valuable features of beliefs: ‘epistemic desiderata.’ I argue that this approach is problematic for meta-epistemological reasons. How, for instance, do we characterize epistemic evaluation and do we do we go about it if there’s no theoretical unity to epistemology? Alston’s response is to ground all epistemic desiderata, thereby unifying epistemology, in truth and truth-conduciveness. I argue that this move over-unifies epistemology, in effect, giving us a single criterion for epistemology on par with the epistemology-by-justification approach he rejects. Perhaps surprisingly, we find a similar theoretical worry in Aristotle’s argument about the science of metaphysics. Aristotle’s resolution in this problem by the ‘analogy of being’ provides a parallel framework to resolve the worries with Alston’s approach. In particular, I argue that we can focus epistemic evaluation on the person of epistemic virtue: this category will be focal, unifying the disparate desiderata, without reducing to one thing all epistemic values or relations that desiderate must bear to the central value. A virtue-centric account of epistemic normativity follows: one that can remain genuinely pluralistic and yet unified as well.

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