Volume 38, 2013
Virtues as Skills in Virtue Epistemology
One approach to understanding moral virtues is to compare them with practical skills, since both involve learning how to act well. This paper inquires whether this approach can be extended to intellectual virtues. The relevance of the analogy between virtues and skills for virtue epistemology can be seen in two prominent discussions of intellectual virtues and skills. Linda Zagzebski has argued that intellectual virtues can be modeled on moral virtues, and that a key component of virtue being understood as a “success” term is that virtues are associated with skills. However, she explicitly rejects the stronger claim that virtues can be understood as skills. Julia Annas defends the idea that virtues are skills, and she uses this conception of virtue to argue that Zagzebski’s project fails because of a key difference between the two types of virtue. This paper argues that a skill model of virtue can support modeling intellectual virtues on ethical virtues, contrary to the claims made by Zagzebski and Annas. There are a variety of misconceptions about skills that have led to errors in both of their discussions. The Dreyfus account of skill acquisition and current psychological research on expertise will help to correct these errors.