Rapporteur reports from RWCP on Sosa and Zagzebski

On April 22, the fifth Rutgers Workshop on Chinese Philosophy took place, with six scholars of Chinese philosophy presenting papers that engaged with the work of Ernest Sosa and Linda Zagzebski. The workshop’s website is here. At the workshop, two Rutgers graduate students, Esther Goh and Frederick Choo, served as rapporteurs, taking notes on each presentation and on the discussion. Their reports follow here, to give those who were not present a sense of the day’s richness. Thanks very much to Ester and Fredrick for these detailed reports!

9:00a.m. – 10:10a.m. “A Third Platonic Problem for Sosa? Or How Wang Yangming Can Know Better than Full Well?
Presenter: Yong Huang (Chinese University of Hong Kong) (via Zoom) / Commentator: Ernest Sosa (Rutgers University)

10:25a.m. – 11:35a.m. “Xunzi and the Authority of Tradition
Presenter: Eric Hutton (University of Utah) / Commentator: Linda Zagzebski (University of Oklahoma)

11:50a.m. – 1:00p.m. “What Would Confucius Say? A Text-Driven Response to Linda Zagzebski’s Theory of Admiration
Presenter: Catherine Klancer (Boston University) / Commentator: Linda Zagzebski (University of Oklahoma)

2:00p.m. – 3:10p.m. “Epistemic Competence and Agency in Sosa and Xúnzi
Presenter: Chris Fraser (University of Toronto) / Commentator: Ernest Sosa (Rutgers University)

3:25p.m. – 4:35p.m. “Body, Mind, Soul, Spirit and Intellectual Virtue in Aristotle and Xunzi
Presenter: Lisa Raphals (University of California Riverside) / Commentator: Linda Zagzebski (University of Oklahoma)

4:50p.m. – 6:00p.m. “Detachment: A Trait-Reliabilist Virtue in Linji’s Chan Buddhism
Presenter: Tao Jiang (Rutgers University) / Commentator: Ernest Sosa (Rutgers University)


9:00a.m. – 10:10a.m. “A Third Platonic Problem for Sosa? Or How Wang Yangming Can Know Better than Full Well?”

Presenter: Yong Huang (Chinese University of Hong Kong) (via Zoom)

Commentator: Ernest Sosa (Rutgers University)

Moderator: Stephen Angle (Wesleyan University)

Rapporteur: Frederick Choo (Rutgers University)


Yong Huang’s Presentation

Yong Huang starts by introducing Ernest Sosa’s solutions to two Platonic problems. The first Platonic problem is ‘What conditions must a belief satisfy in order to constitute knowledge?’ The second Platonic problem is ‘Why is knowledge more valuable than mere true belief?’

Huang introduces a third platonic problem. The third problem is this: ‘Is it possible for one to act against one’s normative knowledge?’ Huang thinks that a person who knows that they ought to do X, but is not disposed to do X, cannot be said to know full well that they ought to do X. In other words, genuine normative knowledge is necessarily motivating. This is problematic for Sosa’s account of knowledge because a fully apt moral belief produced by epistemic competence may not be motivating and does not amount to knowing full well. Yet Sosa’s view entails that the agent knows full well.

Huang turns to neo-Confucian philosopher Wang Yangming, and discusses Wang’s account of moral knowledge. First, Wang holds that moral knowledge is a kind of ‘knowing-to’. Although both knowing-that and knowing-how do not motivate a person, knowing-to is necessarily motivating. A person who knows to do an action is disposed or inclined to act accordingly. Second, Wang holds that moral knowledge involves having a besire—a single mental state that is both belief-like and desire-like. Third, Wang holds that moral knowledge is neither acquired intellectually (as in the case of knowing-that) nor through practice (as in the case of knowing-how). Moral knowledge is attained through the self-reflective inner experience of the heart mind. It cannot be acquired from others.

Ernest Sosa’s Comments

Sosa is not satisfied on the notion of a besire. However, he agrees that knowing-to is a distinct form of knowledge. He proposes to accommodate this practical knowledge in his telic virtue theory. He proposes: At time t, you knew to X, if and only if, at t you knew that you should X, and at t you did X, and your X-ing at t then manifested your knowledge that you should then X.

Some Q&A

Questions on besire leads Huang to defend besire further. He expands the example where when one knows that a flower is beautiful and one also loves the flower. He argues that there cannot be one without the other and so there are just two aspects of one mental state.

A number of questions from the audience surround whether the action must actually be done if the person knows to do the action. Huang holds that Knowing-to does not entail that the action is done since one might not know how to perform the action. One participant suggests that one need not successfully do X, one just needs to try to X. Another suggests that knowing-to is better formulated in terms of a reliable disposition that manifests generally.

Some participants question Sosa’s formulation of knowing-to. Some question how Sosa’s formulation relates to motivation. Another notable question is on what manifesting one’s knowledge of wrong acts would be like.

10:25a.m. – 11:35a.m. “Xunzi and the Authority of Tradition”

Presenter: Eric Hutton (University of Utah)

Commentator: Linda Zagzebski (University of Oklahoma)

Moderator: Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers University)

Rapporteur: Frederick Choo (Rutgers University)


Eric Hutton’s Presentation

Eric Hutton compares Linda’s Zagzebski’s views on epistemic authority to Xunzi’s. Hutton starts by reviewing key aspects of Zagzebski’s view found in her 2012 book Epistemic Authority. First, Zagzebski defends the rationality of self-trust in one’s own epistemic faculties. Second, Zagzebski argues that we should generally trust others as well because of similarities in capacities and the desire for truth. This general trust can be strengthen or weaken depends on the case. Third, Zagzebski argues that a person should trust an epistemic authority’s belief and/or testimony when she judges that she is more likely to form a true belief (or form a belief that survives our conscientious self-reflection) if she defers to the authority, rather than by figuring out what to believe herself.

Hutton then turns to Xunzi’s view. Xunzi advocates for a body of rituals that were developed by ancient sage kings, endowing the sages with epistemic authority. Xunzi appeals to people’s self-concern to follow the rituals developed by the sages. Yet, Xunzi also claims that only a cultivated gentleman who already practices the rituals, would be able to see the value of the rituals. So, the reason to submit to the tradition cannot be fully grasped without already having submitted to the tradition. Hence, people cannot feel trust towards the sages. Homer Dubs suggests that the trust has to be a blind trust.

Hutton thinks that passages from Xunzi have the ingredients to provide a further justification for trusting, similar to Zagzebski’s line of thought. First, Hutton argues that on Xunzi’s view, people can trust their epistemic faculties when used in the right way. Second, he argues that on Xunzi’s view, people share similarities with the sages in terms of desires and capabilities. Third, on Xunzi’s view, the sages produced the rituals based on greater skill and experience. Hence, people have reason to defer to the sages, because they would be more likely satisfy their desires better than they could on their own.

Lastly, notes a shortcoming for Xunzi’s and Zagzebski’s view. By reflecting on a passage from Xunzi, Hutton argues that there can be more than one way to achieve one’s goals, and so deferring to an authority might not be the best way to achieve the goal. Xunzi can address this problem because he insists that the rituals are the best and only option. However, Zagzebski’s view faces this problem because her principles are not framed in maximizing terms.

Linda Zagzebski’s Comments

Zagzebski notes that her view might be even closer to Xunzi’s than what Hutton presents. In an earlier paper of hers regarding Christian living, she notes how a community might see how the rules work only after years of following the rules. This is similar to Xunzi’s view that only a thoroughly cultivated gentleman, who already submits to the tradition, can see the value of the rituals. Zagzebski also notes that western culture also similarly values traditions alongside originality, though the traditions are not as demanding in comparison with Chinese culture. Zagzebski, however, notes an important difference between her view and Xunzi, namely that Xunzi’s view lacks a feeling of trust. Zagzebski thinks that the feeling is important because cognitive states do not motivate. The feeling aspect of trust is needed because it motivates and counteracts contrary natural desires.

Some Q&A

A number of issues were brought up. For one, is Xunzi’s justification purely practical and not epistemic (i.e. the justification has nothing to do with true beliefs). Hutton replies that Xunzi thinks that if you do not grasp the Way correctly, then you will not be able to stay on it. So, an epistemic component is present. Furthermore, Hutton argues that even if one’s justification is initially practical, as one follows the rituals, they will start refining their view on what is valuable.

Second, one participant notes that some of Xunzi’s passages are paternalistic. They ask that we just accept authority just because they say so. The paternalistic view is in contrast to Zagzebski’s view where one is the ultimate judge about who is an authority. Hutton replies that he reads the passages with a different tone. He thinks Xunzi thinks that people can see things over time as long as they have the right kind of guidance.

Third, one participant asks about competitors to Xunzi’s rituals (e.g. Mozi). These people are not uncultivated or petty. Hutton replies that Xunzi argues that other practices will make things worse. Furthermore, Xunzi thinks that these competitors grasp the wrong values (though the petty person is not in an epistemic position to fully see this).

Fourth, one participant asks about the ‘careful observation’ mentioned in the presentation. One could be invited to observe and see the community that practices the rituals and achieve various goals. So, they will have empirical evidence. Hutton clarifies that the careful observation is just about seeing similarities in desires and capabilities. Hutton thinks that on Xunzi’s view, even if the petty person from outside the tradition can see the effects, they cannot fully grasp the effects as good.

11:50a.m. – 1:00p.m. “What Would Confucius Say? A Text-Driven Response to Linda Zagzebski’s Theory of Admiration”

Presenter: Catherine Klancer (Boston University)

Commentator: Linda Zagzebski (University of Oklahoma)

Moderator: Tao Jiang (Rutgers University)

Rapporteur: Frederick Choo (Rutgers University)


Catherine Klancer’s Presentation

Can learning moral theories make us more moral? Some empirical research suggests that a negative answer. Linda Zagzebski, however, proposes a moral theory that help people not only know goodness, but also to be good. This is because her theory has the motivating emotion of admiration at its center. In this session, Catherine Klancer aims to use the Analects to test whether Zagzebski’s theory can help people not just to map out a moral terrain, but also to follow it.

On Zagzebski’s view, we identify what is good by identifying good people, which we do through the emotion of admiration. Such admiration motivates us to emulated the exemplar.  Her theory has two purported strengths. First, admiration is both cognitively and practically significant. Second, her framework is applicable across cultures.

Klancer questions whether admiration reliably produces emulation? Klancer looks to the example of Yan Hui and Ran Qiu in the Analects. Ran Qiu admires Confucius but sees it too difficult to be like Confucius. Klancer suggests that because Yan Hui was an exceptional disciple, Ran Qiu is more representative of most of us. Klancer argues that the Analects suggests that admiration is more of a stumbling block to emulation. Instead, admiration inspires obedience to authority figures. This can be seen in Confucius’ remarks on a virtuous government.

Klancer also notes that Zagzebski uses the metaphor of a map for her moral theory. Klancer criticizes the ‘map’ as a metaphor as being too abstract and too suggestive of movement. Klancer argues that instead for looking for a map through a moral terrain, Confucius would argue that people should be rooting/grounding themselves in the moral terrain. A variety of rituals, roles, and relationships is needed to help one to become moral. This involves being a fully-fledged member of a community and deeply engaging in a tradition. While mapping helps us to see the forest, grounding will help us to save the trees.

Linda Zagzebski’s Comments

Zagzebski starts by clarifying her view. Her theory is meant to both generate a moral map and motivate moral action. She clarifies that she uses Confucius as an exemplar in her theory, even though Confucius himself might hold that admiration plays a different role.

Regarding Confucius’ view that admiration might cut off emulation, she notes that on her view, admiration is necessary but not sufficient for emulation. It is a first step. We do not want people to lose heart, and we can emulate people who are not too far from us.

Regarding Confucius’ view that children should not emulate their parents but obey them, she think that this is compatible with her views on epistemic authority. Zagzebski defends obedience using the modern liberal authority of the self. This can be extended to admiration. Admiration gives a person reason to trust an exemplar and this can justify both emulation and obedience. In line with her justification thesis, she proposes that obedience is justified by the conscientious judgment that obeying the authority is better for me to reach the ends I want, than if I tired to do so on my own. For example, I obey the piano teacher instead of emulating the teacher directly because I think that is the best way to end up like the teacher.

Some Q&A

One question is what happens if a living exemplar declines to instruct or interact with you. One participant notes that Confucius, for example, says that women cannot be instructed. Various participants make various suggestions in reply.

Another comment is that emulation is found in many early Chinese texts and among Confucius’ disciples themselves. Klancer clarifies that her focus is not on outside of the text. Rather she is focused on within the text and is interested in what Confucius himself thinks.

There are also a number of notable comments. First, one participant notes that what is important is not just what the exemplar says, but how the exemplar says it, what circumstance the exemplar says it, and so forth. Second, one participant notes that familiarity with the tradition is important to fully interpretation and understanding the exemplar’s views. Third, one participant raises a pedagogical note. When teaching in class, it may seem like indoctrination if there is only 1 tradition or exemplar being drawn from, yet having too many is also problematic. We need to strike the right balance.

2:00p.m. – 3:10p.m. “Epistemic Competence and Agency in Sosa and Xúnzi”

Presenter: Chris Fraser (University of Toronto)

Commentator: Ernest Sosa (Rutgers University)

Moderator: Tia Kolbaba (Rutgers University)

Rapporteur: Esther Goh (Rutgers University)


Chris Fraser’s Presentation

Fraser makes three main points. First, he draws on Sosa’s conception of “full aptness” to elucidate Xúnzǐ’s discussion of epistemic pitfalls. Second, he suggests how Xúnzǐ’s treatment of agent’s commitment to norms of judgment might enrich our view of epistemic agency. Third, he suggests implications for the relation between reliabilism and responsibilism in virtue epistemology.

Fraser begins by explaining Sosa’s dimensions of competence. “Full aptness” is the highest form of epistemic competence, and a performance is fully apt iff it is guided to first-order (animal) aptness through the agent’s reflectively apt risk assessment. Success of such performances reflects a second-order grasp of one’s first-order reliability. According to Sosa, a central feature of epistemic agency is the ability to freely decide “whether to address the relevant ‘whether-p’ question at all”. This converges with Xunzi’s conception of epistemic agency and competence. According to Xúnzǐ, knowledge is a competence in discriminating and naming things for purpose of guiding action and carrying out dào. Although Xúnzǐ  is not as concerned with justification, he excludes lucky guesses from knowledge because knowledge is associated with systematic competence across a variety of interrelated cases. Epistemic activity is a practical skill – “arts of the heart” – and the key concern is instead with how to avoid or mitigate “blinkering” conditions that can obstruct correct distinction-drawing. Similar to Sosa’s view on full aptness, epistemic competence according to Xúnzǐ includes competence in assessing reliability of own cognitive operations in various contexts and guiding epistemic attitudes accordingly. Competence thus similarly relies on a meta-awareness of how reliable our normal epistemic processes are in the situation. Next, the fundamental attitude of a virtuous epistemic agent, according to Xúnzǐ, is commitment to ends or norms—and thus choice about what “whether-p” questions to address. For Xúnzǐ, the core feature of epistemic agency is thus a higher-order capacity to approve and commit to norms governing epistemic attitudes. It relies on our capacity to commit to a normative dào and apply it to improve general competence and to correct particular performances. Once we have the reliable, neutral criteria, we can avoid bias (blinkering). The distinction between Xúnzǐ and Sosa thus crucially lies in what the aims of epistemic agents are. For Xúnzǐ, it is dào, and not truth. Whether utterances are true is determined by dào. So, epistemic norms ultimately rest on norms of conduct and a normative conception of proper way of life. On Sosa’s view, however, the constitutive aim of epistemic performances is truth, which provides standards of correct performance. Epistemic agency thus entails a higher-order concern to aim at truth.

Fraser concludes by arguing that based on Xúnzǐ’s view, a commitment to relevant norms can plausibly be regarded as an expression of responsibilist virtues, such as conscientiousness. If so, reliabilist virtues may be intelligible only against a background of responsibilist virtues. This is because for Xúnzǐ, a responsibilist commitment to relevant norms is a precondition for applying criteria that underlie reliabilist virtues. When applied to Sosa’s virtue epistemology, one might conclude that the agent capable of fully apt beliefs or knowing full well is someone who cares about and commits to getting things right. Thus, an adequate understanding of epistemic agency requires both responsibilist and reliabilist dimensions.

Ernest Sosa’s comments:

Sosa highlighted the importance of distinguishing between the epistemic virtues that are constituent of knowledge and those that facilitate knowledge. He argues that only the reliabilist virtues are constituent of knowledge.

Sosa also notes that it is one matter to obtain the right answer to a question in a competent way, and another matter to determine which questions to investigate. He also distinguishes between competence about getting things right and competence of not wasting time answering pointless questions.

Some Q&A

One participant raised another passage where Xunzi says to grasp the dao, one needs to pay special attention to being openminded, being focused, and staying concentrated. Fraser comments that these virtues are virtues of general conscientiousness involved with identifying the dao.

Another participant asked whether the heart is emotional, and whether emotions would be a distorting influence to one’s judgment. Fraser makes clear that in Chinese thought, there is no sharp distinction between the heart and mind. He acknowledges that emotions can lead to bias, and Xunzi would emphasize that we need to manage one’s emotions. Otherwise, moderate emotions are part of normal functioning. Xunzi also talks about the brute desires we naturally have, and the attitude of the heart-mind prevents us from acting on brute desires via disapproval. Fraser also notes that assertions fall under approval and disapproval. Importantly, approval and disapproval are not constitutive of desires or emotions, and can be subject to training.

Some notable comments from other participants also revolve around the distinction between epistemology and ethics. Fraser emphasizes that in Chinese thought, the distinction is not as sharp as in Western thought. In Western thought, the epistemic field is concerned with certainty that one has gotten things, getting things right competently, and knowing what questions to investigate. The moral field, however, concerns what one should do. One does not get to choose which questions to evaluate, and it is not value neutral. However, in Chinese thought, one’s epistemic life is not distinct from one’s moral life, since they are concerned with the dao, and truth is just a consequence of dao. Aptness is thus not distinctively epistemic, and questions concerning seemingly value neutral truths (e.g. is the table red?) are part of the moral domain. All descriptive propositions are ideological in nature, and there is no value neutral ground to evaluate reality. The epistemic concerns also are not to do with certainty, since they believe that everyone is in touch with truth in some way or another and there is no way to diverge fully from the truth. Their concern is merely with how one should avoid error, rather than defining the conditions under which one has knowledge.

3:25p.m. – 4:35p.m. “Body, Mind, Soul, Spirit and Intellectual Virtue in Aristotle and Xunzi”

Presenter: Lisa Raphals (University of California Riverside)

Commentator: Linda Zagzebski (University of Oklahoma)

Moderator: Alex Guerrero (Rutgers University)

Rapporteur: Esther Goh (Rutgers University)


Lisa Raphals’ Presentation

Raphals compares Aristotle’s view of the relation of body, mind, and psyche, with Xunzi’s “cognitive” view of the heart-mind in relation to body and spirit. She argues that both Aristotle and Xunzi present accounts of an embodied agent whose thinking and understanding is significantly affected, or even determined by that embodiment. This result is significant because the idea of embodied virtues is underexplored in literature on virtues.

Raphals begins by exploring Aristotle’s hylomorphism and the relation of nous to the body. According to Aristotle, the body affects the psyche, and nous is a part of the psyche. The nous is the psyche’s power to understand – which is distinct from perception. The nous is also linked to perception. Just as how perception occurs when an appropriate sensory faculty receives the form of a sensible object, Aristotle also argues that when we think, the mind takes on the form of its object of thought. Furthermore, he argues that we cannot think without perception – which requires the senses. Thus, the nous requires the body; nous is fundamentally embodied.

Raphals then presents Xunzi’s heart-mind as linked to epistemological virtue: it is the means to discover Dao. The heart-mind makes cognitive judgments based on the inputs of the senses and the body; it engages in cognition and reflection, and apprehends and even oversees Dao. It is the source of moral judgment, and it also differentiates and chooses amongst emotions and desires. Xunzi’s notion of the autonomy of the heart-mind thus establishes the heart-mind as the active agent of self-cultivation. In addition, the rulership of the heart-mind over the body is also linked to rulership to a mastery of the “spirit illumination” of shénming, which is a quality linked to an exalted state of the cognitive and normative activity of the mind.

Raphals then discusses the virtues of an embodied person. Raphals considers Charles Taliaferro’s argument that there are six virtues associated with being an embodied person. She argues that we must distinguish between virtues that are merely effective for quotidian life, and virtues that that enable conscious reflection, control and cultivation. The latter virtues are the embodied complements of nous and the heart-mind. She then references Zagzebski’s definition of intellectual virtues to show that Aristotle would consider nous as an intellectual virtue, and Xunzi’s heart-mind would also qualify as an intellectual virtue. Both nous and the heart-mind fundamentally require the senses, and both Aristotle and Xunzi depict the mind as the proper ruler of the senses. For both, excellence, or virtuosity of the mind also seems to require excellence or virtuosity of perception. Following Taliaferro, she concludes that excellence or virtuosity also requires excellence or virtuosity in embodied virtues, sensory virtues and agency. Last, Raphals considers some examples in Chinese thought that point to the importance of embodiment and the complex interactions of mind with other capacities.

Linda Zagzebski’s Comments

Zagzebski notes that both virtues and skills in embodiment are connected to intellectual and moral virtues. It is however important to distinguish between virtues and skills. Virtues can be lost but not by forgetting. However, skills can be forgotten. Skills are also subject specific and content specific. Furthermore, when the person chooses not to enact it, it does not count against possession of skill. Skills also lack a contrary—there is no viced skill.  So, skills are distinct from virtues, though skills support both moral virtues and intellectual virtues.

She turns to Aquinas who accepts hylomorphism. On Aquinas’s view, human nature after the fall has propensity to sin. Left to own devices we will resort to the seven deadly sins. Living morally must come with divine help. It often involves ritualized practices like the sacraments. Through these, we can develop virtues that corrects our natural propensity to vice. She notes that this shares similarities with Xunzi who recognizes that men are inclined to evil and need rituals to train and transform their human nature. Aristotle, however, doesn’t subscribe to such regime. Humans are capable as long as they are focused on getting the right end.

Some Q&A

One participant sought clarification on the mechanism in which rituals are formed and how they change people. Is there a general, underlying story that can be told about how rituals create moral community? Raphals and other participants respond that a number of stories can be told about the mechanisms because rituals encompass a wide range of practices. The main focus of rituals is not the result of the performance, but the cultivation of moral sensibility through the performance.

One comment raised by a participant is that rituals have bodily dimensions (how you sit, how you stand, etc) and also moral and cultural functions. The practice of ritual can thus be seen as a cultivation of moral and epistemological skill. Raphals highlights that the embodied and attentive aspects of rituals, however, are less of a preoccupation for Xunzi. He seems to take for granted what one’s attitude should be when performing rituals.

Another participant questions whether Zagzebski holds that moral virtue and epistemic virtue are distinct or integrated, and whether the moral realm encompasses the epistemic realm and vice versa. Zagzebski responds that she can distinguish between epistemic virtues and moral virtues. For example, one might argue that moral virtues involve human wellbeing while epistemic virtues involve truth. She affirms that the distinction can be useful in certain contexts. However, if we regard morality in the broader sense, the intellectual virtues can be considered forms of moral virtues. After all, both have the same structure, both are acquired in the same way, and both leads to a good life. Understood in this sense, intellectual virtues can be considered as moral virtues because they are essential to living the good life.

4:50p.m. – 6:00p.m. “Detachment: A Trait-Reliabilist Virtue in Linji’s Chan Buddhism”

Presenter: Tao Jiang (Rutgers University)

Commentator: Ernest Sosa (Rutgers University)

Moderator: Karen Bennett (Rutgers University)

Rapporteur: Esther Goh (Rutgers University)


Tao Jiang’s Presentation

Tao Jiang starts by explaining the debate between reliabilism and responsibilism in contemporary virtue epistemology. What virtues should count as an epistemic virtue? Ernest Sosa defends reliabilism which holds that epistemic virtues have to do with epistemic competence in perception, memory, inductive and deductive reasoning. These are faculty virtues. Linda Zagzebski defends responsibilism which holds that epistemic virtues have to with character traits instead, such as curiosity, open-mindedness, and intellectual courage in epistemic pursuit. One major difference between the two views is that faculty virtues are knowledge-constitutive competences, whereas trait virtues are merely auxiliary, merely facilitating epistemic pursuit rather than constituting knowledge.

Jiang then turns to focus on detachment, a core epistemic virtue in Buddhism. In particular, he argues that detachment, as articulated in Linji’s Chan Buddhist philosophy, takes on both reliabilist and responsibilist features.

First, for Buddhists, ignorance and illusion is the cause of suffering. On the Buddhist view, our attachment distorts our cognition of the world, permeating all of our cognitive activities. Detachment is necessary in order to overcome ignorance and reach enlightenment. Hence, Jiang argues that detachment is constitutive of enlightened knowledge of emptiness (reliabilist in nature).

Second, although Indian Buddhists focus on an enlightened cognition, Chan Buddhists like Linji focus on enlightened character instead. Chan practice is about transforming a practitioner’s character, not about having a particular bodily posture or having meditation-induced visions. On Chan Buddhism, detachment includes having the character traits of courage, confidence, and freedom. Hence, detachment is a cultivated character trait (responsibilist in nature).

Jiang ends by pointing out that this result is significant. Detachment can be understood as an example of a responsibilist trait virtue that is reliabilist in nature, blurring the lines between the debate between reliabilist faculty virtues and responsibilist trait virtues.

Ernest Sosa’s Comments

Sosa raises two metaphors similar to the case of detachment: that of scales falling from one’s eyes, and that of darkness removed by enlightenment. These cases presuppose humans have an underlying competence to get things right, but the person’s faculty is blocked. We need a procedure to remove the blockage.

Is removing the scales, providing light, and detachment constitutive of knowledge? Sosa suggest not. He argues that Buddhist detachment is not constitutive of knowledge, rather it is only auxiliary. If we remove the lid from a box to learn that a necklace is inside, the lifting of the lid is merely auxiliary. Our knowledge is not constituted by removing the blockage. Instead, what our knowledge consists of is our visual competences in seeing the necklace and identifying it as a necklace. Similarly, detachment is merely auxiliary as it helps puts a person in a position to exercise their competences by removing a blockage.

Finally, Sosa makes a number of clarifications on his view. He thinks that there are responsibilist virtues, but he denies that these traits are constitutive of knowledge. In assessing whether a belief amounts to knowledge, what is relevant are competences that are aimed at the reliable attainment of truth. He argues that we should not confuse virtues that decide how you should lead your intellectual life, and virtues that bear on answering a question that one is trying to reliably know. Responsibilist virtues are about the former, while reliabilist virtues are about the latter.

Some Q&A

Some participants push Jiang to explain how exactly detachment is supposed to be constitutive of enlightened knowledge. On participant worries that this would end up characterizing detachment as a mental state, rather than just a lack of mental state. Jiang replies that on the Chan Buddhist view, grasping is in our cognition and we need detachment to overcome the grasping. The negative aspect of overcoming the grasping is what is constitutive of enlightened knowledge.

Some participants also ask for clarifications to be made on some Chinese terms like on knowledge and detachment. For knowledge, Jiang has in mind ‘zhi,’ and for detachment, he mentions that there are multiple terms.

Finally, one participant questions whether there really is a difference between developing character traits and developing a cognitive faculty, because both involve desires and help us form beliefs.

One reply

  1. This is very helpful and informative. Many thanks to the rapporteurs for their excellent work.

    Some thoughts from my side on Huang Yong’s presentation and Sosa’s response: Huang suggests that, if an agent knows-to do X, then the agent at least knows THAT she should do X. And so, for Huang, knowing-to is a kind of knowing-that. It is knowledge of a normative proposition.

    Why then would Sosa agree that knowing-to is a “distinct form of knowledge”? If knowing-to is, in the end, just a kind of knowing-that, then it is not distinct. Of course Huang might respond that knowing-to is distinct, and it is distinct as a -kind- of knowing-that (different from other kinds of knowing-that), mainly because having knowing-to necessarily motivates the knower to act (whereas possessing other kinds of knowledge-that doesn’t.) He might even say, whereas standard propositional knowledge entails belief, knowing-to entails “besire.” And so knowing-to is besire-based propositional knowledge that necessarily motivates the knower to act. This makes it distinct. Perhaps, then, Sosa wanted to agree that knowing-to is a “distinct form of -propositional- knowledge.”

    But that doesn’t seem right. Sosa rejects the notion of a besire. And Sosa’s own rendition of knowing-to makes no reference to the supposedly necessarily motivating aspect of knowing-to. Even more puzzling, Sosa seems to be saying that, according to him, knowing-to consists of manifesting your knowledge-that of a normative proposition. But why would -that- be a distinct form of knowledge? Wouldn’t it merely be knowledge as it is manifested in action? It seems to me that if I manifest my knowledge in action (i.e., put it into practice), I do not thereby possess a completely distinct kind of knowledge at the moment I manifest it. All it means is that I have put my knowledge into practice.

    So on Sosa’s account, knowing-to is not a distinct form of knowledge (propositional or otherwise). On Huang’s account, knowing-to is at best only distinct as a kind of propositional knowledge – and only if we accept his notion of a besire.

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