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  • A Virtue Epistemology: Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge, Volume I
  • Christopher Lepock (bio)
Ernest Sosa . A Virtue Epistemology: Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge, Volume I. Oxford: Oxford University Press2007. Pp. xiii + 149.

Sosa's influence on contemporary epistemology is hard to overstate. The position that he articulates in A Virtue Epistemology is a magnificent contribution to the field, one that synthesizes with great effectiveness a number of main themes, and that provides further elaboration and development of the position that he defends in Knowledge in Perspective.

I will begin by surveying some main themes in A Virtue Epistemology: the view of animal and reflective knowledge that Sosa develops, his two responses to skepticism, and his credit theory of knowledge. Then I will try to determine in more detail what animal and reflective knowledge are, for Sosa, and show some problems that arise from his conception of them.

At the time of writing, Sosa's book had already been out for a year and a half, and a large amount of critical material has already appeared in print, along with replies from Sosa. I will take the liberty of making use of some of this material in this notice, since much that is difficult in the book is clarified in Sosa's responses to his critics.

I Apt belief and reflective knowledge (a first pass)

Performances can be judged on what Sosa calls the AAA model: they can be accurate, or successful; adroit, or skilful; and apt, accurate because adroit, i.e., successful because they were performed skilfully. Beliefs, [End Page 131] he argues, are long-sustained performances, and can exhibit the AAA structure as well.

Adroitness, or whether a belief arose from a competence operating in the right conditions (whether or not it was successful), is a form of justification. For instance, Sosa argues that the best way to understand the justificatory power of rational intuitions is to see them as the deliver-ances of epistemic competences. This model, he maintains, is superior to treating intuitions on the model of perception, or as grasping intellectual facts.

Apt belief is belief that is true because it manifests an epistemic competence exercised in appropriate conditions. When one's belief is apt, it would not likely be false as long as the conditions are appropriate and one's competence is preserved; and this highly relativized safety arises because of, or is attributable to, one's competence. The conditions are appropriate when either (a) the subject is guided by them, as when an archer corrects for the wind when shooting or a believer forms a visual belief because the light seems good, or (b) they are constitutive of the normal conditions for exercise of the competence, as when an archer shoots on a calm day without any regard for whether the wind is good or a believer forms a visual belief in good light without any regard for whether the light is good.

Sosa has previously advocated1 that knowledge must be safe: to know that p, one's belief that p must not easily be false, i.e., must not be false in nearby possible worlds. Aptness does not entail safety, because one's competence or the appropriateness of the conditions might be counter-factually fragile. If one's ability might easily have been impaired, or one might easily have been in unfavourable conditions, one's belief will not be safe. The move from safety to aptness is parallel in many ways to Nozick's relativization of truth-tracking to the process type that actually formed the belief. We need first to take account of the fact that one's belief can be unsafe because one was lucky to have the evidence one had, which gets us basis-relative safety, or safety relative to the grounds for the belief. We must also, Sosa thinks, take account of the fact that one might be lucky to be able to exhibit the competence that one did, or might be lucky that one was able to exhibit that competence in the right conditions. Consider a nervous student in an oral exam who forgets his nervousness just long enough to be able to solve a...


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