The Role of Epistemic Virtue in the Realization of Basic Goods

Preston Bradley Hall (Chicago). Photo by Chris Smith.



Note: Anne Baril was a participant in the Virtue, Happiness, & Meaning of Life 2016 Summer Seminar. This post is an excerpt of a piece originally published June 6, 2017, on the blog Imperfect Cognitions, where Baril summarizes a paper she recently published in Episteme.

Click the above link to Imperfect Cognitions for the full post.

Getting clear about the nature of epistemic virtue is an important first step not only for empirical investigations, but for philosophical investigations as well. Is there some more-than- 
merely-instrumental relationship between epistemic virtue and well-being, or between epistemic virtue and some contributor to well-being, that can be uncovered through philosophical, rather than empirical, investigation?

This is one of the questions I seek to answer in my work. What I have found is that epistemic virtue–on at least one plausible interpretation–is importantly implicated in the realization of some of the goods that are widely believed to be instrumental to, or even constitutive of, well-being: goods such friendship, autonomy, and aesthetic experience. There is (what I call) a constitutive overlap between epistemic virtue and many such goods.

Take, for example, aesthetic experience. Aesthetic experience, understood as a general type of good, is realized in token instances – for example, in viewing Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, or reading George Eliot’s Silas Marner. It is not a passive experience that just ‘washes over one’; it consists in a certain kind 
of active engagement. It consists in charitably interpreting the work; transcending one’s 
familiar or default cognitive standpoint to open-mindedly engage with it (Baehr 2011: 
103); honestly assessing it; confronting the darker parts of human nature; not being overly 
influenced by others’ opinions about the work. What one is doing, in part, in the active experience that is aesthetic experience, is exercising epistemic virtue – for example, intellectual charity, open-mindedness, intellectual honesty, intellectual courage, and intellectual autonomy. In this sense there is constitutive overlap between epistemic virtue and aesthetic experience.

What exactly the upshot of this is for well-being depends on one’s account of well-being. But finding extensive overlap between epistemic virtue and goods like aesthetic experience supports the view that that epistemic virtue is an integral part of the kind of personality that is well-suited to realize the most important goods in one’s life. And this, in turn, goes a long way towards showing that–despite the anecdotal and empirical evidence cited at the beginning of this entry–epistemic virtue’s net contribution to a person’s well-being is a positive one. Epistemic virtue makes us better off.


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Anne Baril is a Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis.  She has research interests in ethics, epistemology, social and political philosophy, and their intersection.  In her current central research project, she argues that epistemic virtue is both integral to the development of moral character and a constitutive contributor to well-being. 

Group photo: “Virtue & Happiness” Summer Seminar

This week on the Virtue Blog, I’ll post photos from our first summer seminar, “Virtue & Happiness”.

I took our group photo on the grounds of Moreau Seminary, the location for our week-long series of seminars, discussions, great food, and walks around the lakes.

Click the photo to make it larger!

~ Valerie Wallace, Associate Director, Communications

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From left: Darcia Narvaez, Chip Lockwood, Kristina Grob, Anne Baril, Jason Welle, Indra Liauw, Fr. Michael Sherwin, Wenqing Zhao, Santiago Mejia, Olivia Bailey, Ryan Darr, Gus Skorburg, Leland Saunders, Mihailis Diamantis, Sukaina Hirji, Jennifer A. Frey, Hollen Reisher, Candace Vogler, Owen Flanagan, Yuan Yuan, Amichai Amit, Brian Ballard, Parisa Moosavi, Sungwoo Um, Anselm Mueller, John Meinert, Samuel Baker, Tom Angier, Kate Phillips, Jaime Hovey, Matthew Dugandzic. Photo by Valerie Wallace.

Interview with Anne Baril, Summer Session Participant

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This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue & Happiness” 2016 Summer Seminar. Anne Baril is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Mexico.

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Anne Baril: Originally from Minnesota, I now live in New Mexico.

 

VW: Tell me about your research.

AB: I have research interests in ethics, epistemology, and their intersection.  I am especially interested in exploring the role of the epistemic virtues in the good life.  The development and exercise of traits like open-mindedness, fair-mindedness, intellectual charity, and intellectual generosity are important for living well- both for becoming good people, and for living good, satisfying lives.  I argue this in my current central research project.

 

VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s Virtue & Happiness seminar?

AB: Having recently started my first job, I am looking forward to the opportunity to be a student again.  All of the sessions and topics sound fascinating, and certain to be helpful to me in my own research.  And—I’ll admit—I’ve looked up the other students online, and they sound amazing!  Can’t wait to meet them and discuss all things happy and virtuous.

 

 
VW: What are your non-academic interests?

AB: My daughter was born in February, and she is just getting to the age to enjoy storytime, sing-alongs, and walks in the woods with our dog, so right now those are my favorite activities!  With going out for a drink or a coffee for a chat with a real-live adult a current second favorite.