Is all virtue-based ethics and epistemology response-dependentist? It seems to me that yes. Consider the following:
Some people say that value comes from affection and sentiment. Suppose one of them, call him Michael S. claims that the central “producer” of value is empathic care. But he also thinks that being empathically caring is a virtue, since he follows the traditional Aristotelian account of virtues and thinks that virtues first, motivate, and second, tell us what is a worthy goal of action. So, his view is virtue-based: values derive from virtues. Next, notice that empathic care is virtuous agent’s central RESPONSE to situations, foremost to other people’s needs and predicaments. The value of his goal is dependent on his virtue, and the activation of virtue is a response. Therefore, value is RESPONSE-DEPENDENT. Here is the story generalized and epistemologized:
1. Value derives from virtue. X has a value V because it is a (fitting) object of the exercise of virtue A (for “arête”). E.g. the value of reliably true belief comes from the virtue of inquisitiveness. (The Assumption of Virtue-Based Ethics)
2. A virtue has a motivational component (and a cognitive one ). E.g. inquisitiveness motivates. (A plausible Classical Assumption).
3. The exercise of a virtue A is a (merited) response to X that has value V. E.g. If a mathematical theorem is worth our believing it, then curiosity about it is a merited response to it (from 1 and 2).
4. Having value V depends on virtue A.
5. Value V is response-dependent. E.g. a theorem has a primary and non-instumental epistemic value only if it is such that a virtuous (inquisitive) agent, say a mathematician, would be curious about it under normal circumstances.

Now, the dependence can be cashed out in two connected ways:
(A) Causing-producing: X has value V because X tends to produce the virtue A-activating response R in virtuous agents. (Example: The theorem typically arouses mathematician’s curiosity):
(B) Conceptual fitting: X has value V because the virtue A-activating response R in virtuous agents is the merited response to X. (Example: The theorem merits the curiosity)
Traditionally, virtue-based projects involve both: the second for certain, but also the first. It is its POWER TO CONFER VALUE that makes virtue so basic. (Some philosophers, e.g. J. Dancy, and M. Little and M. Lance, personal comm..) would say that the second case (i.e.(B)) gives one just response-involving and not response-dependent character; to me the issue seems more verbal than real.)
Conclusion: all virtue-based ethics and epistemology is response-dependentist.

I am very very eager for comments!

P.S. The motivating component of virtue is a DESIRE-LIKE faculty, if we take desire in very wide sense. If this is so, we get a version of virtue-Humeanism as the final product.



  1. I confess this is drifting above my head. There seems to be a slight problem with inquisitiveness as a virtue. The practice of inquisitiveness is fact finding. Suppose h was the hypothesis that homo erectus had language. Surely the inquisitive would be equally satisfied to discover that h was true as to discover that h was false? In which case falsehood is equally a value as truth. The parallel would not work for the virtue of creating beauty. One would not be equally pleased to create an ugly thing as a beautiful thing.
    “If a mathematical theorem is worth our believing then curiousity about it is a merited response to it.”
    Suppose Goldbach’s conjecture was false. This wouldn’t mean that curiousity about it is not a merited response to it. But it would mean that it is “not worth” our believing it, if this is to be translated as we shouldn’t believe it because it is false.
    I don’t think this is a real difficulty, but I can’t right now see around it. I’m curious to see if you can.

  2. Jonny, thanks for the nice question.
    I would say it is the curiosity about the pair consisting of Goldbach’s conjecture and its negation, and valuing whatever turns out to be the right answer.
    We need a bit of semantics of questions, and of “wondering wheather” a conjecture is true.

  3. Another problem is that curiousity doesn’t seem to be a pure virtue. Just survey some folk wisdom “Curiousity killed the cat” “Don’t be nosey” “Mind your own business”. Privacy is valued, and therefore there is a certain amount of moral approval in respecting others privacy. Although curiosity in a student is a sought after and valued quality, the sort of sordid curiousity that spawn the papparazzi and salacious gossip mongers is usually thought to be far from commendable.
    In fact there is a strong, though perhaps contemporarily unfashionable, idea that innocence is a virtue. Children shouldn’t know certain facts, and therefore their curiousity in certain areas should be curbed. Libertine experimentation is driven by a curiosity of a most unsavoury kind.
    How to decide what curiousity is virtuous and what curiousity is not so virtuous? This may be an easy matter, were it not for the use of curiousity as a way of making a virtue out of truth. One might try and unpack the folk wisdom in “Mind your own business” to get a sense of what curiousity is virtuous. The result would be that you should be curious only about what it is your business to know. So the general norm “Believe what is true” is restricted to what is your business. “What is your business” can only mean those beliefs that are instrumental to the fulfilment of your proper goals in life. To go perhaps a bit too fast, it seems that curiousity can no longer be used as a general way of valuing true belief over false. The conclusion is pragmatic. True beliefs are worth believing in the long run because they are more useful than false beliefs. You should therefore only be curious about beliefs that will be useful to you.

  4. Jonny, thanks for the fine comment.
    In fact, Montaigne was claiming long time ago that one should be curious only about “one’s bussiness”, things that are properly concerning oneself, and hopefully in one’s power. Descartes replies in the Rules that we can never know where inquiry will lead us , and symmetrically, what things are going to be our business.
    The examples you adduce seem to me to point to the conflict of values. Innocence is good only for certain age and certain roles. Curiosity killed the cat, but also killed many researchers (Marie Curie), and so on. And what we do is weigh the value(s) against each other.

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