Call for Papers on Thick and Thin Epistemology

Epistemology Through Thick & Thin

Special edition of Philosophical Papers, Guest editors: Ben Kotzee & Jeremy Wanderer (U. of Cape Town)

The distinction between thick concepts (e.g., ‘deceit’, ‘gratitude’) and thin concepts (e.g., ‘good’, ‘wrong’), and their relevant importance to philosophical research, has been central to recent ethical theory. Metaethical discussion traditionally focuses on the thin, leading some to contend that moving from considering thin concepts to thick concepts leads to a very different, and preferable, conception of ethics.

A similar distinction suggests itself within epistemology. ‘Justification’ and ‘knowledge’ seem to be thin epistemic concepts, whilst ‘intellectual curiosity’, ‘trust’ and ‘gullibility’ seem to be thick ones. Like metaethicists, epistemologists have focused on the thin, raising the question whether a move from thin to thick would lead to an alternative and/or preferable conception of epistemology.

Only those approaching epistemology from the point of view of virtue ethics and those interested in ethno-epistemology have tended to recognize a distinction between a thick and thin epistemology. The aim of this special issue Philosophical Papers is to consider the distinction between thick and thin epistemic concepts both within and without specific conceptions of epistemology, as well as providing a forum for discussion of specific thick epistemic concepts.

Possible Questions for Discussion:
1. What is the best way to understand the distinction between thick and thin epistemic concepts? Are there problems with the analogy from the case of ethics?
2. Would the move from a thick to thin epistemology lead to significant changes in how we do epistemology? If so, is this desirable?
3. How should particular examples of thick epistemic concepts be understood?
4. Do particular debates within epistemology (e.g., internalism vs. externalism, foundationalism vs. coherentism) or more general approaches to epistemology favour one kind of concept over the other?

The deadline for receipt of submissions is 30 June 2008. This issue of Philosophical Papers, comprising both invited and submitted articles, will appear in November 2008.

Authors are encouraged to submit manuscripts electronically, as a pdf- or word-document attachment, to philosophical Authors should include their full name, affiliation, and address for e-mail correspondence with their submission.

Further enquiries may be addressed to Ben Kotzee ( or Ward Jones, Editor, Philosophical Papers (


Call for Papers on Thick and Thin Epistemology — 3 Comments

  1. Here are some epistemology pieces that use the terminology of “thick” and “thin” concepts:

    Linda Zagzebski’s Virtues of the Mind

    Heather Battaly’s “Thin Concepts to the Rescue”

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