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Virtue in Context Open Access


Other title
Generality Problem
Virtue Ethics
Situationist Critique
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Ball, Andrew C
Supervisor and department
Hunter, Bruce (Philosophy)
Examining committee member and department
Spalding, Thomas (Psychology)
Brigandt, Ingo (Philosophy)
Welchman, Jennifer (Philosophy)
Fantl, Jeremy (Philosophy)
Department of Philosophy

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Virtue Reliabilism and Virtue Responsibilism are two theories within the enterprise of Virtue Epistemology. The former considers virtues to be those competences whose reliability is what confers justification on its product beliefs. The latter considers virtues as being those deep-seated intellectual traits that are part of a person’s very character, and so when such virtues are possessed and exercised by an agent, they achieve beliefs that are justified via being the products of virtue. Both theories face difficult objections, however. Virtue reliabilism is challenged by the generality problem which claims that since justification is determined by how reliable the belief-forming process is, what we have to do to figure out just how reliable a process is will be by coming up with a proper description of the relevant process. However, there is no principled way to come up with such descriptions in order to determine the correct level of generality regarding the description of a belief-forming process. Virtue responsibilism is challenged by the situationist critique which claims that virtues do not do the kind of work we think they do. Rather, when agents morally and intellectually act in praiseworthy ways, their success is due to situational features of their experience and not to anything like what we think of as virtue. What both problems have in common is that they require their respective target theories to come up with explanations that accurately describe what’s going on when people get things right epistemically. As such, virtue reliabilism and virtue responsibilism both face the same sort of problem. In this dissertation, I attempt to provide a contextual response to the generality problem that doesn’t solve that problem per se, but suggests that the problem itself is problematic. In requiring the reliabilist to come up with a universal principle(s) that allows the epistemic practitioner to determine the relevant description for reliable belief-forming processes, the proponent of the generality problem assumes that processes are relevantly alike in all instances of belief formation. But our epistemic practices show otherwise. Indeed, standards for belief justification vary between different situations and contexts. Some contexts have quite stringent standards regarding how reliable a process must be in order to be considered reliable enough while other contexts are not so stringent. As such, that there could be some universal standard or principle for process description is impossible. This dissertation argues for a contextual resolution to the generality problem. Furthermore, it argues that the Virtue Reliabilism of Ernest Sosa seems to have embedded in it a very congenial affinity to attributor contextualism. In light of (i) those arguments, (ii) the similar contextual nature of neo-Aristotelian aretaic thought, (iii) as well as the similarity of the situationist critique to the generality problem, a similar contextual response to that critique is then offered.
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