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Just the Right Thickness: A Defense of Second-Wave Virtue Epistemology

G Axtell
JA Carter


Do the central aims of epistemology, like those of moral philosophy, require that
we designate some important place for those concepts located between the thin-normative
and the non-normative? Put another way, does epistemology need ‘thick' evaluative
concepts? There are inveterate traditions in analytic epistemology which, having
legitimized a certain way of viewing the nature and scope of epistemology's subject matter,
give this question a negative verdict; further, they have carried with them a tacit
commitment to what we argue to be an epistemic analogue of the reductionistic centralist
thesis that Bernard Williams in our view successfully challenged in ethics. In this essay, we
challenge these traditional dogmas and in doing so align ourselves with what has been
recently called the ‘Value Turn' in epistemology. From this perspective, we defend that,
contrary to tradition, epistemology does need thick evaluative concepts. Further, the sort of
theories that will be able to give thick evaluative concepts a deservedly central role in both
belief and agent evaluation are those non-centralist projects that fall within what we call the
second-wave of virtue epistemology. We recognize that, in breaking from centralism, there is a worry that a resulting anti-centralist theory will be reductionistic in the other direction—
making the thick primary. We contend however that second-wave virtue epistemologies
should be thought to provide the wave of the right thickness, and as such, constitute the
most promising approaches within a field that has become increasingly more normative,
diverse and expansive than was the traditional set of problems from which it emerged.

Philosophical Papers Vol. 37 (3) 2008: pp. 413-434

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eISSN: 0556-8641