on May 25, 2004
There are all sorts of excellent reasons why any analytic philosopher should read this book. It's the locus classicus for an important new approach in epistemology - the doctrine, that is, that knowledge should be defined in terms of the traits of character involved in its acquisition, rather that by genus and difference (in the way that it has usually been since Plato) as a sub-class of true beliefs distinguishable by virtue of their justificatory status. It also contains a very interesting, synoptic discussion of the concept of virtue itself, and its significance and usefulness in ethics as well as epistemology. Finally, Zagzebski is an enormously well-read and engaging writer - she has remarkable breadth of learning for a contemporary analytic philosopher, and a talent for placing enormously diverse sources (from medieval philosophy to literary fiction to the ideas of some of the most obscure and demanding contemporary philosophers) onto the same chessboard. This makes the book an uncommonly pleasurable read for anyone interested in the issues she discusses.
Does she make a convincing case for so-called "virtue epistemology?" Not even close, in my books - her solution to the famous Gettier problem for traditional definitions of knowledge depends upon a distinction between the acts performed by virtuous people and what she calls "acts of virtue" that seemed to me to be more or less entirely spurious and ad hoc. But I got so much other stuff out of the book that by the end I didn't even care all that much about this relatively minor flaw.