Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Dual Processes, Dual Virtues

This post is by Jakob Ohlhorst (University of Cologne) on his recent paper "Dual processes, dual virtues" (2021, Philosophical Studies).

Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow has been unabatedly popular in the last decade. It illustratively presents one of the dominant psychological theories of cognition, how we process information: dual process theory. The theory distinguishes two types of cognition: 

Type 1 processes happen automatically, they requires little effort, they are specific to domains, and they use reliable heuristics. This roughly corresponds to the common notion of intuition. A nice example for it is the great amount of information that we gain from simply looking at faces: we can read a person’s mood, recognise the person, estimate their age, and so on. 

Type 2 cognition on the other hand is executed with voluntary control, it requires cognitive effort, it can be applied to any topic, and it operates by explicit inference. For example, solving a high school math problem with pen and paper is a typical Type 2 process. 

Meanwhile, there is a similar distinction in virtue epistemology: reliabilist and responsibilist theories disagree on the exact nature of epistemic virtue. Virtue epistemology in general looks to the agent’s epistemic capacities and abilities rather than her single beliefs and inferences. 

Epistemic successes like knowledge and discovery are explained by the agent’s capacities rather than their evidence and inferences. Marie Curie’s discoveries are not explained as a result of what she had as evidence and so on but as a result of her specific epistemic competences to reason, that is her virtues. 

Virtue epistemologists have disagreed on the exact nature of these virtues: Virtue reliabilists argue that a capacity’s being a virtue is a question of its reliably producing true beliefs. If you recognise people most of the time by simply looking at their faces then your face recognition capacity is a reliabilist virtue. 

Virtue responsibilists, meanwhile, look to Aristotelian virtue ethics to explain epistemic virtue: just as behavioural dispositions like courage are moral virtues, epistemic habits like patience and conscientiousness are epistemic virtues that in turn explain epistemic success. 

You need to exhibit the responsibilist virtues of carefulness and patience, if you want to successfully solve a math problem. Responsibilist and reliabilist virtue theories are usually taken to be incompatible and in competition because they explain entirely different notions of epistemic success and virtues. 

The way that I used my examples shows already, that I propose a different avenue: the two virtue theories are not competitors; instead, they describe the virtue of the different types of cognition. Namely, reliabilist virtue means the disposition of Type 1 capacities to function reliably, and responsibilist virtue means the disposition of Type 2 cognition to function excellently. 

Reliabilist Type 1 virtues need to be reliably true because that is the epistemic good that Type 1 capacities deliver best, meanwhile responsibilist Type 2 virtues deliver a broader range of epistemic goods like understanding, explanation, or justification. Marie Curie was able to make her Nobel Prize worthy discoveries because she possessed both the necessary Type 1 and Type 2 virtues.

This shows us that reliabilism and responsibilism are both right; they simply explain the virtue of different types of cognition. These types of cognition complement each other and, consequently, also Type 1 and Type 2 virtues are complementary: each is able to achieve epistemic goals that the other cannot. 

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