Epistemic Virtues

How we know the world affects what we know about the world and vice versa. The relationship between ourselves as knowers and the content of our knowledge is an intimate one. Yet, I do not wish to imply that there is no stable knowledge possible. The radical constructivist route, I believe, is mistaken. Instead, if we are to become more fully responsible for our actions in our active world, we would do well to adopt an attitude wonderfully captured in the phrase ‘epistemic virtue’.

Epistemic is the English adjective form of the Greek word ‘episteme/knowledge’. Having epistemic virtue points to an honesty in our self-knowledge and to a humility that protects us against self-deception. Honesty is not the same as virtue-signalling. If I am honest, I may realise that I hold decidedly unvirtuous beliefs. Honesty, then, can be dangerous. An irony presents itself. I can be virtuous and unvirtuous simultaneously. Being epistemically virtuous can result in knowing that I am unvirtuous in thought, belief, or deed.

Cognition refers to our mental processes in relation to our knowledge and understanding. When I study epistemic cognition, I want to know about people’s knowledge and understanding of epistemic issues as they relate to their lived experiences. I want to know this because I want to know myself. And I believe that epistemic cognition offers a method of understanding a great deal about the issues that currently affect our world.

This blog is about epistemic cognition.


The title of this post comes from Chinn, Buckland and Samarapungavan’s excellent article from 2011. They discuss the notion of ‘epistemic virtue’, which they define in the following way;

An epistemic virtue is a learned, stable disposition that is (a) directed at epistemic aims such as true belief, knowledge, and understanding and (b) relatively efficacious in achieving these aims. (p. 156)

Chinn, C. A., Buckland, L. A., & Samarapungavan, A. (2011). Expanding the dimensions of epistemic cognition: Arguments from philosophy and psychology. Educational Psychologist, 46(3), 141–167. https://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2011.587722


[Prior to August 2018] These pages comprise my output on the EdD course at the University of Liverpool. You may derive use from this site if you are an educator in higher education (HE), if you are interested in education in Japan generally, if you are pursuing a similar course of study elsewhere, or if you are just looking for a very eclectic range of HE topics for a brief read (usually with appropriate references).

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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