Ignorance and epistemic value

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Epistemic Value/Disvalue Recent years have seen a huge upsurge of interest in the topic of epistemic value, particularly with regard to the value of knowledge in contrast to other positive epistemic standings such as justified belief and understanding. The questions raised for positive epistemic standings such as knowledge can, however, equally be posed with regard to negative epistemic standings such as ignorance, which we will simply take to be the lack of knowledge. Interestingly, as we will see, it does not follow from the fact that ignorance is a negative epistemic standing that it is thereby a disvaluable epistemic standing. For just as we can imagine positive epistemic standings being sometimes disvaluable, so we can likewise conceive of negative epistemic standing being valuable. Before we get to this point, however, we first need to flag an ambiguity in the very notion of epistemic value, one that is often overlooked but that is, as we will see, very important to evaluating the putative epistemic value of ignorance. The most natural way to understand the notion of epistemic value is as picking out a particular kind of value that is distinctively epistemic, just as we might suppose that aesthetic value picks out a particular kind of value that is distinctively aesthetic. But there is also a secondary usage of this notion in the literature, often not kept apart from the first, whereby it is taken to also cover the value of a particular epistemic standing, whether that value is distinctively epistemic or otherwise. It is common in the literature, for example, to explore the ‘epistemic value’ of knowledge by appealing to its practical utility. But since no one thinks that practical utility is a distinctively epistemic kind of value, it is clear that we are here using the phrase ‘epistemic value’ in an importantly different way. In particular, ‘epistemic value’ here means not a distinctively epistemic kind of value but rather instead the value of the epistemic (which may itself be either distinctively epistemic or otherwise). Henceforth, we will keep these two notions of epistemic value apart, and do so by only using ‘epistemic value’ to refer to the distinctively epistemic kind of value.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe epistemic dimensions of ignorance
EditorsRik Peels, Martijn Blaauw
Place of PublicationCambridge, UK
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780511820076
ISBN (Print)9781107175600
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


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