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Testimony

Edited by Peter Graham (University of California, Riverside)
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Summary

Beliefs are often based on assertions by others: that is, on testimony.  This phenomenon raises many questions.  How wide is the range of testimony-based beliefs? Do all assertions play the same epistemic role, or do some assertive speech acts play special roles?  Can mathematical, moral, religious, or aesthetic knowledge be transferred?  A major issue in the epistemology of testimony concerns the rational role of testimony.  How does comprehending an assertion rationally support a belief? According to reductionism, it provides no support; comprehension is rationally inert. The recipient must have independent rational grounds to believe the assertion. Anti-reductionism disagrees: comprehension provides prima facie, defeasible rational support. Reductionism is accused of being too demanding, anti-reductionism of being too permissive.  Another issue concerns the transmission of knowledge.   Is knowledge transferred from sender to receiver? Is knowledge in the chain of sources essential for the uptake of knowledge, or can assertive communication sometimes generate knowledge?

Key works Coady 1992 is a classic book-length treatment of nearly all the major issues. Burge 1993 is a rewarding and influential anti-reductionist account. Graham 2010 is an empirically informed, proper functioning anti-reductionist account. Fricker 1994 levels the charge of excessive permissiveness against anti-reductionism. Goldberg & Henderson 2006 articulates the standard, anti-reductionist response. Moran 2005 emphasizes the interpersonal role of telling in favor of anti-reductionism. Lackey 1999 and Graham 2006 argue that testimony sometimes generates knowledge. In recent books, Lackey 2008 and Faulkner 2011 both argue, in very different ways, for a middle path between reductionism and anti-reductionism.
Introductions Adler 2008 is Jonathan Adler's revised and comprehensive Stanford Encyclopedia entry. Lackey 2010 is a concise and informative survey.
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Subcategories:History/traditions: Testimony
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Epistemology of Testimony
  1. Jonathan Adler, Epistemological Problems of Testimony. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  2. Jonathan E. Adler (1994). Testimony, Trust, Knowing. Journal of Philosophy 91 (5):264-275.
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  3. G. J. Agich & B. J. Spielman (1997). Ethics Expert Testimony: Against the Skeptics. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 22 (4):381-403.
    There is great skepticism about the admittance of expert normative ethics testimony into evidence. However, a practical analysis of the way ethics testimony has been used in courts of law reveals that the skeptical position is itself based on assumptions that are controversial. We argue for an alternative way to understand such expert testimony. This alternative understanding is based on the practice of clinical ethics.
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  4. Ben Almassi (2009). Conflicting Expert Testimony and the Search for Gravitational Waves. Philosophy of Science 76 (5):570-584.
    How can we make informed decisions about whom to trust given expert disagreement? Can experts on both sides be reasonable in holding conflicting views? Epistemologists have engaged the issue of reasonable expert disagreement generally; here I consider a particular expert dispute in physics, given conflicting accounts from Harry Collins and Allan Franklin, over Joseph Weber’s alleged detection of gravitational waves. Finding common ground between Collins and Franklin, I offer a characterization of the gravity wave dispute as both social and evidential. (...)
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  5. Ben Almassi (2009). Trust in Expert Testimony: Eddington's 1919 Eclipse Expedition and the British Response to General Relativity. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 40 (1):57-67.
  6. Ben Almassi (2007). Experts, Evidence, and Epistemic Independence. Spontaneous Generations 1 (1):58-66.
    Throughout his work on the rationality of epistemic dependence, John Hardwig makes the striking observation that he believes many things for which he possesses no evidence (1985, 335; 1991, 693; 1994, 83). While he could imagine collecting for himself the relevant evidence for some of his beliefs, the vastness of the world and constraints of time and individual intellect thwart his ability to gather for himself the evidence for all his beliefs. So for many things he believes what others tell (...)
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  7. Robert Audi (2013). Testimony as a Social Foundation of Knowledge. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 87 (3):507-531.
    Testimony is the mainstay of human communication and essential for the spread of knowledge. But testimony may also spread error. Under what conditions does it yield knowledge in the person addressed? Must the recipient trust the attester? And does the attester have to know what is affirmed? A related question is what is required for the recipient to be justified in believing testimony. Is testimony-based justification acquired in the same way as testimony-based knowledge? This paper addresses these and other questions. (...)
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  8. Robert Audi (2005). The Epistemic Authority of Testimony and the Ethics of Belief. In Andrew Dole & Andrew Chignell (eds.), God and the Ethics of Belief: New Essays in Philosophy of Religion. Cambridge University Press.
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  9. Robert Audi (2004). The a Priori Authority of Testimony. Philosophical Issues 14 (1):18–34.
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  10. Robert Audi (1997). The Place of Testimony in the Fabric of Knowledge and Justification. American Philosophical Quarterly 34 (4):405 - 422.
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  11. Gordon Baker & Katherine J. Morris (2004). The Meditations and the Logic of Testimony. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 12 (1):23 – 41.
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  12. David Bakhurst (2013). Learning From Others. Journal of Philosophy of Education 47 (2):187-203.
    John McDowell begins his essay ‘Knowledge by Hearsay’ (1993) by describing two ways language matters to epistemology. The first is that, by understanding and accepting someone else's utterance, a person can acquire knowledge. This is what philosophers call ‘knowledge by testimony’. The second is that children acquire knowledge in the course of learning their first language—in acquiring language, a child inherits a conception of the world. In The Formation of Reason (2011), and my writings on Russian socio-historical philosophy and psychology, (...)
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  13. Alex Barber (2006). Testimony and Illusion. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 6 (3):401-429.
    This paper considers a form of scepticism according to which sentences, along with other linguistic entities such as verbs and phonemes, etc., are never realized. If, whenever a conversational participant produces some noise or other, they and all other participants assume that a specific sentence has been realized (or, more colloquially, spoken), communication will be fluent whether or not the shared assumption is correct. That communication takes place is therefore, one might think, no ground for assuming that sentences are realized (...)
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  14. David W. Barnes (2005). Imwinkelried's Argument for Normative Ethical Testimony. Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 33 (2):234-241.
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  15. Gregory Bassham & Jerry L. Walls (eds.) (2005). The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy. Open Court.
    The director of the Center for Ethics and Public Life presents a series of essays on the philosophical implications of the Narnia series, exploring Lewis's ...
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  16. Steven M. Bayne (2007). Hume on Miracles: Would It Take a Miracle to Believe in a Miracle? Southern Journal of Philosophy 45 (1):1-29.
    Given Hume’s theory of belief and belief production it is no small task to explain how it is possible for a belief in a miracle to be produced. I argue that belief in a miracle cannot be produced through Hume’sstandard causal mechanisms and that although education, passion, and testimony initially seem to be promising mechanisms for producing belief in a miracle, none of these is able to produce the belief in amiracle. I conclude by explaining how this poses a problem (...)
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  17. Endre Begby (forthcoming). Lexical Norms, Language Comprehension, and the Epistemology of Testimony. Canadian Journal of Philosophy:1-19.
    Most testimonial exchange occurs by way of linguistic communication. This suggests that the epistemology of language comprehension is importantly implicated in the epistemology of testimony. But how? This paper takes its departure from a recent argument developed by Sanford Goldberg. According to Goldberg, reflection on the connections between the epistemologies of language comprehension and testimony provides a novel argument for linguistic normativity: without positing public linguistic norms we would be at a loss to account for widely assumed epistemic entitlements to (...)
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  18. Matthew A. Benton (forthcoming). Believing on Authority. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion.
    Linda Zagzebski's "Epistemic Authority" (Oxford University Press, 2012) brings together issues in social epistemology with topics in moral and political philosophy as well as philosophy of religion. In this paper I criticize her discussion of self-trust and rationality, which sets up the main argument of the book; I consider how her view of authority relates to some issues of epistemic authority in testimony; and I raise some concerns about her treatment of religious epistemology and religious authority in particular.
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  19. Matthew A. Benton (forthcoming). Expert Opinion and Second‐Hand Knowledge. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    Expert testimony figures in recent debates over how best to understand the norm of assertion and the domain-specific epistemic expectations placed on testifiers. Cases of experts asserting with only isolated second-hand knowledge (Lackey 2011, 2013) have been used to shed light on whether knowledge is sufficient for epistemically permissible assertion. I argue that relying on such cases of expert testimony introduces several problems concerning how we understand expert knowledge, and the sharing of such knowledge through testimony. Refinements are needed to (...)
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  20. Lisa A. Bergin (2002). Testimony, Epistemic Difference, and Privilege: How Feminist Epistemology Can Improve Our Understanding of the Communication of Knowledge. Social Epistemology 16 (3):197 – 213.
  21. Sven Bernecker & Fred I. Dretske (eds.) (2000). Knowledge: Readings in Contemporary Epistemology. Oxford University Press.
    In this anthology, distinguished editors Sven Bernecker and Fred Dretske offer the most comprehensive review available of contemporary epistemology. They bring together the most important and influential writings in the field, including frequently neglected topics such as dominant responses to skepticism, introspection, memory, and testimony. Knowledge is divided into fifteen subject areas and includes forty-one readings by eminent contributors. An accessible introduction to each subject area outlines the problems discussed in the essays that follow so that students can focus on (...)
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  22. J. Biro (1995). Testimony and "a Priori" Knowledge. Philosophical Issues 6:301-310.
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  23. Laurence BonJour (2010). Epistemology: Classic Problems and Contemporary Responses. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc..
    Introduction -- Part I: The classical problems of epistemology -- Descartes's epistemology -- The concept of knowledge -- The problem of induction -- A priori justification and knowledge -- Immediate experience -- Knowledge of the external world -- Some further epistemological issues : other minds, testimony, and memory -- Part II: Contemporary responses to the cartesian epistemological program -- Introduction to part II -- Foundationalism and coherentism -- Internalism and externalism -- Quine and naturalized epistemology -- Knowledge and skepticism.
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  24. Yves Bouchard (ed.) (2002). Perspectives on Coherentism. Editions du Scribe.
  25. Luc Bovens & Stephen Leeds, The Epistemology of Social Facts: The Evidential Value of Personal Experience Versus Testimony.
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  26. Fernando Broncano (2008). Trusting Others. The Epistemological Authority of Testimony. Theoria 23 (1):11-22.
    I propose to consider the interpersonal character of testimony as a kind of social bond created by the mutual intention of sharing knowledge. The paper explores the social mechanism that supports this mutual intention starting from an initial situation of modelling the other’s epistemic perspective. Accepting testimony as a joint action creates epistemic duties and responsibilities and the eventual success can be considered as a genuine achievement at the social level of epistemology. Trust is presented here as the symptom that (...)
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  27. Tyler Burge (1993). Content Preservation. Philosophical Review 102 (4):457-488.
    The JSTOR Archive is a trusted digital repository providing for long-term preservation and access to leading academic journals and scholarly literature from around the world. The Archive is supported by libraries, scholarly societies, publishers, and foundations. It is an initiative of JSTOR, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help the scholarly community take advantage of advances in technology. For more information regarding JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
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  28. J. Adam Carter & Philip J. Nickel (2014). On Testimony and Transmission. Episteme 11 (02):145-155.
    Jennifer Lackey’s case “Creationist Teacher,” in which students acquire knowledge of evolutionary theory from a teacher who does not herself believe the theory, has been discussed widely as a counterexample to so-called transmission theories of testimonial knowledge and justification. The case purports to show that a speaker need not herself have knowledge or justification in order to enable listeners to acquire knowledge or justification from her assertion. The original case has been criticized on the ground that it does not really (...)
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  29. Annamaria Carusi (2008). Scientific Visualisations and Aesthetic Grounds for Trust. Ethics and Information Technology 10 (4):243-254.
    The collaborative ‹Big Science’ approach prevalent in physics during the mid- and late-20th century is becoming more common in the life sciences. Often computationally mediated, these collaborations challenge researchers’ trust practices. Focusing on the visualisations that are often at the heart of this form of scientific practice, the paper proposes that the aesthetic aspects of these visualisations are themselves a way of securing trust. Kant’s account of aesthetic judgements in the Third Critique is drawn upon in order to show that (...)
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  30. Albert Casullo (2007). Testimony and A Priori Knowledge. Episteme 4 (3):322-334.
    Tyler Burge offers a theory of testimony that allows for the possibility of both testimonial a priori warrant and testimonial a priori knowledge. I uncover a tension in his account of the relationship between the two, and locate its source in the analogy that Burge draws between testimonial warrant and preservative memory. I contend that this analogy should be rejected, and offer a revision of Burge's theory that eliminates the tension. I conclude by assessing the impact of the revised theory (...)
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  31. Albert Casullo (2007). What is Entitlement? Acta Analytica 22 (4):267 - 279.
    In his seminal paper, Content Preservation, Tyler Burge defends an original account of testimonial knowledge. The originality of the account is due, in part, to the fact that it is cast within a novel epistemic framework. The central feature of that framework is the introduction of the concept of entitlement, which is alleged to be a distinctive type of positive epistemic support or warrant. Entitlement and justification, according to Burge, are sub-species of warrant. Justification is the internalist form of warrant, (...)
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  32. Arindam Chakrabarti (2009). I Am Told by an Expert, Therefore I Know : Transmission of Knowledge (Pramaa) by Testimony in Classical Indian and Contemporary Western Epistemology. In M. T. Stepani͡ant͡s (ed.), Knowledge and Belief in the Dialogue of Cultures. Council for Research in Values and Philosophy.
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  33. Arindam Chakrabarti (1994). Testimony. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54 (4):965-972.
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  34. David Christensen & Hilary Kornblith (1997). Testimony, Memory and the Limits of the a Priori. Philosophical Studies 86 (1):1-20.
    A number of philosophers, from Thomas Reid1 through C. A. J. Coady2, have argued that one is justified in relying on the testimony of others, and furthermore, that this should be taken as a basic epistemic presumption. If such a general presumption were not ultimately dependent on evidence for the reliability of other people, the ground for this presumption would be a priori. Such a presumption would then have a status like that which Roderick Chisholm claims for the epistemic principle (...)
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  35. Stewart Clem (2013). The Epistemic Relevance of the Virtue of Justice. Philosophia 41 (2):301-311.
    Recent literature on the relationship between knowledge and justice has tended to focus exclusively on the social and ethical dimensions of this relationship (e.g. social injustices related to knowledge and power, etc.). For the purposes of this article, I am interested in examining the virtue of justice and its effects on the cognitive faculties of its possessor (and, correspondingly, the effects of the vice of injustice). Drawing upon Thomas Aquinas’s account of the virtue of justice, I argue that in certain (...)
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  36. Fabrice Clément (2010). To Trust or Not to Trust? Children's Social Epistemology. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1 (4):531-549.
    Philosophers agree that an important part of our knowledge is acquired via testimony. One of the main objectives of social epistemology is therefore to specify the conditions under which a hearer is justified in accepting a proposition stated by a source. Non-reductionists, who think that testimony could be considered as an a priori source of knowledge, as well as reductionists, who think that another type of justification has to be added to testimony, share a common conception about children development. Non-reductionists (...)
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  37. C. A. J. Coady (2002). Testimony and Intellectual Autonomy. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 33 (2):355-372.
  38. C. A. J. Coady (1992). Testimony: A Philosophical Study. Oxford University Press.
    Our trust in the word of others is often dismissed as unworthy, because the illusory ideal of "autonomous knowledge" has prevailed in the debate about the nature of knowledge. Yet we are profoundly dependent on others for a vast amount of what any of us claim to know. Coady explores the nature of testimony in order to show how it might be justified as a source of knowledge, and uses the insights that he has developed to challenge certain widespread assumptions (...)
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  39. C. A. J. Coady (1975). Collingwood and Historical Testimony. Philosophy 50 (194):409 - 424.
  40. C. A. J. Coady (1973). Testimony and Observation. American Philosophical Quarterly 108 (2):149-55.
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  41. David Coady & Richard Corry (2013). The Climate Change Debate: An Epistemic and Ethical Enquiry. Palgrave Macmillan.
    Two kinds of philosophical questions are raised by the current public debate about climate change; epistemic questions (Whom should I believe? Is climate science a genuine science?), and ethical questions (Who should bear the burden? Must I sacrifice if others do not?). Although the former have been central to this debate, professional philosophers have dealt almost exclusively with the latter. This book is the first to address both the epistemic and ethical questions raised by the climate change debate and examine (...)
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  42. E. J. Coffman (forthcoming). Critical Notice of Jonathan Sutton, Without Justification. Philosophical Books.
    In Without Justification,[1] Jonathan Sutton undermines the orthodox view that a justified belief needn’t constitute knowledge; develops a battery of arguments for the unorthodox thesis that you justifiedly believe P iff you know P; and explores the topics of testimony and inference in light of his equation of justification and knowledge (J=K). This book is essential reading at epistemology’s cutting edge. In §I, we’ll take an extended tour of the book, raising various questions and objections along the way. In §II, (...)
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  43. Dorothy Coleman (2001). Baconian Probability and Hume's Theory of Testimony. Hume Studies 27 (2):195-226.
    The foremost advocate of Baconian probability, L. J. Cohen, has credited Hume for being the first to explicitly recognize that there is an important kind of probability which does not fit into the framework afforded by the calculus of chance, a recognition that is evident in Hume's distinction between analogical probability and probabilities arising from chance or cause. This essay defends Hume's account of the credibility of testimony, including his notorious argument against the credibility of testimony to miracles, in light (...)
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  44. Matthew R. Dasti (2008). Testimony, Belief Transfer, and Causal Irrelevance: Reflections From India's Nyaya School. History of Philosophy Quarterly 25 (4):281-299.
    Recent studies of Nyäya’s account of testimony have illustrated its anticipation of contemporary testimonial antireductionism, the position that testimony cannot be reduced to a more fundamental means of knowledge like inference or perception. This paper discusses another relevant but less discussed anticipation of current debate, involving the status of speaker belief in testimonial exchange. Is a speaker’s veridical apprehension of the content of his utterance a necessary condition on testimonial exchange? This was a source of much disputation among Indian epistemologists, (...)
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  45. Dhirendon Mohon Datta (1927). Testimony as a Method of Knowledge. Mind 36 (143):354-358.
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  46. Nancy Daukas (2011). Altogether Now: A Virtue-Theoretic Approach to Pluralism in Feminist Epistemology In. In Heidi Grasswick (ed.), Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science: Power in Knowledge.
    In this paper I develop and support a feminist virtue epistemology and bring it into conversation with feminist contextual empiricism and feminist standpoint theory. The virtue theory I develop is centered on the virtue of epistemic trustworthiness, which foregrounds the social/political character of knowledge practices and products, and the differences between epistemic agencies that perpetuate, on the one hand, and displace, on the other hand, normative patterns of unjust epistemic discrimination. I argue that my view answers important questions regarding epistemic (...)
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  47. Jeroen de Ridder (2013). Epistemic Dependence and Collective Scientific Knowledge. Synthese 191 (1):1-17.
    I argue that scientific knowledge is collective knowledge, in a sense to be specified and defended. I first consider some existing proposals for construing collective knowledge and argue that they are unsatisfactory, at least for scientific knowledge as we encounter it in actual scientific practice. Then I introduce an alternative conception of collective knowledge, on which knowledge is collective if there is a strong form of mutual epistemic dependence among scientists, which makes it so that satisfaction of the justification condition (...)
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  48. Matthew Dentith (2012). In Defence of Conspiracy Theories. Dissertation, University of Auckland
    The purpose of this doctoral project is to explore the epistemic issues surrounding the concept of the conspiracy theory and to advance the analysis and evaluation of the conspiracy theory as a mode of explanation. The candidate is interested in the circumstances under which inferring to the truth or likeliness of a given conspiracy theory is, or is not, warranted.
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  49. Madhav Deshpande (forthcoming). Language and Testimony in Classical Indian Philosophy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  50. Paul Dicken (2011). On Some Limitations of Humean Disagreement: Miraculous Testimony and Contrary Religions. Sophia 50 (3):345-355.
1 — 50 / 457