One thing virtue epistemologists (as well as other epistemologists) try to sort out is how the connection between true belief and abilities should be understood in cases of knowing. One widely-shared intuition is that knowledge requires of a true belief that it ‘depend’ on ability. In a recent paper, Michael Levin (2004) attacks virtue-theoretic analyses of knowledge by arguing that there is no clear sense in which an explanation for how a true belief ‘arises out of ability’ (i.e. depends on ability) will suffice for ensuring that the true belief will not depend on luck (of the sort we think to be incompatible with knowledge). If Levin is right, then the virtue epistemologist has as an important task the elucidation of the dependence relationship a true belief has on ability and luck, respectively. Here, I just want to pose a question: what exactly is it for a true belief to ‘depend on luck.’ If a true belief is lucky just in case it’s false in most nearby worlds in which it is formed in relevantly the same way that it is formed in the actual world, then we might naturally say that a true belief ‘depends on luck’ when it depends on the actual world, given the way the belief was formed, being unlike most nearby worlds in which the conditions giving rise to the belief were held fixed. If this way of thinking of the conditions under which a true belief depends on luck is plausible, then a virtue theoretic approach to analyzing knowledge would seem to have two strategies open for making the case that when the truth of a belief depends on ability (in the sense that knowledge requires) it will not ‘depend on luck.’ One way would be to hold an incompatibilist thesis with respect to what it is that a belief’s being true can depend on. Such a thesis might be:
Dependence incompatibilism: The truth of a belief depends on ability iff it does not depend on luck.
Alternatively, a virtue-theoretic account of knowledge might appeal to a different conception of this dependence relation: call it ‘dependence compatibilism.’
Dependence compatibilism: (i) The truth of a belief can depend at the same time on both ability and luck; (ii) a belief is known only if it depends on ability moreso than luck.
Strictly speaking, I think any attempt to preserve the incompatibilist thesis is doomed; for example, I know immediately after I park my car where it is, and my belief’s being true here seems to depend little on luck–it doesn’t depend much on the world being different from most nearby worlds–which are also ones in which my car will still be there (presumably, it’s a far-off world in which my car disappears moments after I park it). HOWEVER, I still know my car is where I parked it 10 minutes after I parked it… and that my belief is true ten minutes later plausibly depends at least a little more on luck than it did immediately after I parked it. After all, the world had 10 minutes more of an opportunity to be different from what I thought it was. Further… we might say that after a week, I no longer know where my car was; the truth of my belief seems now to be such that it ‘too easily’ could have been false.
These intuitions would license us to think that the truth of our beliefs depends on ability and luck in a way that is gradient rather than rigid. If this is right, then a theory of knowledge that requires of a knower that her true belief ‘depend’ on ability should be concerned not with explaining how the true belief does not ‘depend on luck’ but rather with explaining how knowledge requires the truth of one’s belief to depend on ability ‘moreso’ than luck. Or at least, this is the idea I want to advance.
I’m interested in what thoughts anyone might want to share about how either (i) My reasoning here is mistaken; or (ii) how a theory of knowledge could go about preserving this particular intuition–that knowledge requires a true belief depend (comparatively speaking) on ability moreso than luck. What might such a an analysis look like once its conditions are specified?