What makes a vice reprehensible? Dictionary.com describes a vice as an immoral or evil habit or practice; a fault, defect, or shortcoming. Dictionary.com also defines reprehensible as deserving of reproof, rebuke, or censure; blameworthy. So a reprehensible vice is a habit, fault, defect, or shortcoming that deserves disapproval and for which someone is blameworthy.
In Vices of the Mind, Quassim Cassam looks at epistemic vices through this frame. He writes, “in what sense are epistemic vices reprehensible? The simplest view is that epistemic vices are blameworthy. When a vice V is described as blameworthy it isn’t V that is blameworthy but the person whose vice V is.” To go even deeper, Cassam argues that epistemic vices carry with them epistemic blame. “Epistemic blame,” he writes, “is blame directed at a person on account of specifically epistemic failings that cause specifically epistemic harms.”
A reprehensible epistemic vice is a habit of thought, a faulty way of thinking, or a shortcoming in mental patterns that can be blamed on an individual. The vice itself, the particular way of thinking that is flawed, is not what is deserving of blame. It is the person who thinks in a way that obstructs knowledge and information that is to blame.
When a person makes a mistake out of arrogance, it is not their arrogance that is at fault, but it is the fault of the individual for being arrogant. Similarly, we don’t blame wishful-thinking or closed-mindedness for the failures of a country to prepare for or adequately address a global pandemic. We blame the leaders who were too closed-minded to see the risks and who engaged in too much wishful-thinking to take serious action.
Epistemic failings, failures to adequately foster knowledge, lead to epistemic harms, that is an inhibition of of knowledge that can have downstream consequences. Cassam shows that epistemic vices which systematically bring about epistemic failings are reprehensible. They can be pinned to specific people, their behaviors, and their attitudes. Further, they can be blamed on the individuals, not on the vices or epistemic harms themselves. This is what makes epistemic vices reprehensible, and why they can be taken personally and deserve the attention of a full book.