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Fr. 463

December 19, 2013

As all three of the strategies outlined, affirmative and negative, come up against considerable interpretative difficulties, it is unclear if any of them can be pursued in fully excluding the others. Although it is likely that the strategies seen to this point possess some conceptual resources in view of which it is possible to address these interpretative difficulties to a greater or lesser extent, the fact remains that their present difficulties provide significant motivation for considering how these strategies might be used in tandem to further the agenda of a given thinker.

The case of the negative strategies most easily fits this scenario, for there is a sense in which the two negative strategies seem two halves of a larger whole, given that each seeks to explain away the illusion of surplus value. This is, however, accomplished through different means: first-order analysis of individual cases in one case, second-order analysis of the concepts of knowledge and merely true belief in the other. Nevertheless, this difference in approach does not suggest anything in the way of a fundamental divide on existence or predominance of this illusion. Whence their seeming complementarity on this matter.

More challenging is the combination of affirmative and negative strategies within the scope of a single account of knowledge’s value. If it is unclear how these might hold together in an overall mixed strategy, there is nothing to rule out such a possibility in advance, particularly once being more fully fleshed out. The challenge owes rather to the thinker’s motivations for making use of both affirmative and negative strategies within a single account. Insofar as the affirmative is included, we can reasonably expect that the thinker accepts the surplus value of knowledge, leaving open the question as to why a negative strategy need be included at all. Possible motivations for pursuing of parallel negative strategies might include: shoring up potential failings or oversights in the final account of knowledge’s value; reducing the demands to be made on the thinker’s account of knowledge’s value; and so on.

In short, given their prima facie insufficiency of each position, there seems reason enough to suppose that one strategy might appeal to another in order to secure its own position more firmly. If it thus seems that elements of both the affirmative and negative strategies can be carried out in parallel as two parts of a mixed strategy, this reasonably comes with the expectation that the thinker under consideration will do with certain qualifications. What are the relevant qualifications here? And how do these seemingly opposed strategies come together in the accounts of contemporary epistemologists?

One thinker in whose work such a mixed strategy is visible is John Greco, for whom knowledge is to be defined, broadly, as “success from ability”. This is in keeping with the larger epistemological project with which his work is identified: virtue epistemology. Because virtue epistemology seeks to distinguish knowledge from mere true belief through its emphasis on the individual’s ability as the most relevant component of her knowing that p as opposed to another’s merely truly believing that p, virtue epistemology imputes a higher value to the individual’s contribution to her knowing than the other’s merely truly believing that p. In other words, the individual is to be credited for her contribution to knowing that p through the use of her epistemic virtues or abilities whereas the other’s epistemic virtues or capacities have little to no role to play in merely believing that p.

Accordingly, the particular version of the subsumption argument that is relevant for Greco’s case is the following:

1.) In general, success from ability is better than success not from ability.
2.) Knowledge is a case of success from ability.
Therefore, 3.) knowledge is better than merely true belief.

As mentioned above, Greco pursues a mixed strategy to the surplus value problem, most recently in his 2010 book Achieving Knowledge. As a mixed strategy necessarily involves partially negating or, perhaps less strongly, qualifying some part of the subsumption argument fueling the surplus value intuition, it remains to be seen which of these premises Greco seeks to qualify. Although Greco does not formulate the intuition as above, we can reasonably speculate that it is most likely one and this for two reasons. First, as Greco accepts the conclusion in broad terms, qualification is to be made at the level of one of the premises. Secondly, as premise 2 is definitional and introduces a definition that is at the heart of the epistemic virtue position, the “fault”, as it were, must lie with the wording of premise 1. Indeed, Greco seeks to alleviate some of the pressure introduced by this premise in lightening the burden of proof that is placed upon the proponent of surplus value by first showing to what extent both opponent and proponents of the theory ask too much of both knowledge’s value and the thinker attempting to articulate that value.

For what begins as an admission that knowledge is valuable swiftly becomes far more complicated when comparison with merely true belief is introduced. In fact, it is on the basis of just such shifting questions and emphases that surplus value moves from intuition to problem. For this reason, Greco deems it necessary to begin his account by clearing away some of the conceptual confusion surrounding surplus value, particularly as this comes out in Kvanvig’s The Value of Knowledge, before turning to the ways in which a virtue epistemology account of surplus value moves beyond the dilemmas set out above.

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