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Open for Debate

A Study of the Virtue of Epistemic Collaborativeness

10 July 2023

Agents can achieve far greater things when working in groups than individually. For instance, some of the most important scientific theories and findings have been the product of epistemic collaboration (see e.g. Einstein and Grossman’s collaborative work in developing the relativistic theory of gravitation). But what is the personality trait that makes agents both driven and competent in their joint epistemic pursuits? My current project focuses on an in-depth examination of epistemic collaborativeness and has two main (interrelated) objectives: (i) provide an account of the nature and significance of the virtue of epistemic collaborativeness; (ii) develop practical strategies for educating for this virtue. In view of the global challenges (e.g. environmental crisis, COVID-19) faced by humanity nowadays, the need to tackle such challenges by working together on a global scale brings forward the urgency of the study of epistemic collaborativeness.

In 1980, Ernest Sosa introduced the concept of intellectual virtue into contemporary epistemology. Since then, the concept became the focus of a flourishing discipline of virtue epistemology. Broadly speaking, virtue epistemology is the study of the nature, identity, and significance to our epistemic practices and projects of character. This includes both work on theoretical issues, like the nature of intellectual virtue, and applied work that uses the concept of intellectual virtue to shape epistemic practices in domains like science or education. Unlike traditional epistemologists who focus on evaluating the agents’ beliefs (e.g. whether such beliefs are justified), virtue epistemologists examine the agents’ epistemic faculties and/or character traits.

One could crudely divide virtue epistemologists into two camps: (i) virtue reliabilism and (ii) virtue responsibilism. On the one hand, scholars of the former camp argue that intellectual virtues are innate faculties or acquired habits “…that enable a person to arrive at truth” (Greco, 2002, p. 287 – see also Sosa, 1991; Pritchard, 2005). On the other hand, scholars belonging to the virtue responsibilism camp define intellectual virtues as epistemically valuable acquired traits of character that an agent is (at least to some degree) responsible for possessing and “a truth desiring person…would want to have” (Montmarquet, 1993, p. 30 – see also Zagzebski, 1996; Baehr, 2011).

A significant part of current research in virtue epistemology involves identifying and examining the different intellectual virtues (see e.g. Roberts and Wood, 2007; Watson, 2015; Battaly, 2017). Despite this, the virtue of epistemic collaborativeness has gone unnoticed by virtue epistemologists, with the majority of scholars examining self-regarding intellectual virtues. This is a notable gap in the literature given the importance of well-motivated and skillful epistemic collaboration for the flourishing of human societies and “…the fact that there are some epistemic tasks which can only be performed collaboratively (e.g. particle physics at the Large Hadron Collider requires 17,500 engineers, physicists and mathematicians)” (Kotsonis, 2022, p. 319).

The study of epistemic collaborativeness is pertinent at this time, given the recent push towards a social virtue epistemology that studies the social dimensions of epistemic virtue (Lahroodi, 2007; Byerly, 2021). The virtue of collaborativeness “…plays a significant role in bringing about success in joint epistemic endeavors in areas such as scientific research (e.g. scientists working together to comprehend and describe a natural phenomenon), law (e.g. juries rendering a verdict) and politics (e.g. officials jointly investigating a political scandal)” (Kotsonis, 2023, p. 881). Hence, epistemic collaborativeness can be of significant import to social epistemology which examines “the social paths to knowledge” (Goldman, 1999, p. 4). It can be employed to account for those features of an agent that are instrumental in bringing about success in collective epistemic endeavors as well as explain how the absence of a specific trait could threaten the success of epistemic collaboration.

Epistemic collaborativeness has also been omitted from discussions regarding virtue education. This is an important gap in the literature given that the study of this virtue can be of considerable value for intellectual virtue education. Collaborative problem-solving learning (Margetson, 1993; Hmelo-Silver, 2004) – adjusted to the needs of virtue education (Kotsonis, 2019) – is an excellent method for instilling the virtue of epistemic collaborativeness in learners (Kotsonis, 2022). In collaborative problem-solving learning, students learn through facilitated problem-solving: they work together on problems and then reflect (through in-class discussions) on what they have learned as well as evaluate the method they employed to solve the problem. Notably, when educating for the virtue of epistemic collaborativeness, one helps learners to develop the motivation and ability to work together with others and simultaneously fosters the growth of other epistemic virtues, such as intellectual courage and open-mindedness, that are involved in good collaborative practice (Kotsonis, 2023, p. 881 – see also Kotsonis, 2022).

Overall, the study of epistemic collaborativeness is highly valuable for the flourishing of human societies, particularly since there is an urgent need to work collaboratively to deal with current and future global challenges. Working virtuously together can really make a difference and propel us towards a better future.



  1. This post is based on:

-Kotsonis, A. (2022). Educating for collaboration: A virtue education approach. Ethics and Education, 17(3), 311-323. The final authenticated version is available online at: 10.1080/17449642.2022.2111485

-Kotsonis, A. (2023). Epistemic collaborativeness as an intellectual virtue. Erkenntnis, 88, 869-884. The final authenticated version is available online at: 10.1007/s10670-021-00384-y

  1. I want to thank Quassim Cassam, Andrew Fisher, Craig French, Ian James Kidd, Guy Longworth, Orestis Palermos, Duncan Pritchard, Theodore Scaltsas and Jonathan Tallant for their comments on previous drafts and/or their help with this research project.



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