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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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  1. Jennifer Lackey (2006). 1. Reductionism. In Jennifer Lackey & Ernest Sosa (eds.), The Epistemology of Testimony. Oxford University Press 160.
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  2. Curtis E. Renoe (1996). Seeing is Believing?: Expert Testimony and the Construction of Interpretive Authority in an American Trial. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law - Revue Internationale de Sémiotique Juridique 9 (2):115-137.
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  3. Andrew Rotondo (2014). The Epistemology of Disagreement: New Essays by Christensen, David and Lackey, Jennifer (Eds.). Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (2):413-414.
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  4. Epistemically Fundamental Or Simply (2008). Is the Principle of Testimony Simply Epistemically Fundamental or Simply Not? In Nicola Mößner, Sebastian Schmoranzer & Christian Weidemann (eds.), Richard Swinburne. Christian Philosophy in a Modern World. Ontos 61.
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  5. Wilhelm Wessels (2013). YHWH, the God of New Beginnings: Micah's Testimony. Hts Theological Studies 69 (1):01-08.
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  6. René van Woudenberg (1997). Kennis op basis Van ervaring en kennis op basis Van getuigenis. Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 59 (3):407 - 433.
    The thesis developed and defended in this paper is that is it false that all knowledge is founded on experience. Much of our knowledge (or alleged knowledge), it is argued, is based on testimony. Still, many philosophers have either not dealt with testimony at all, or treated it very unkindly. One of the reasons for this is that those philosophers (such as Descartes and Locke) work with a concept of knowledge according to which knowledge is certain, indubitable, and/or self-evident. And (...)
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  7. Jesús Zamora Bonilla (2008). Pure Intuition. Theoria 23 (1):77-80.
    Two aspects of Miranda Fricker’s book are criticised: the implicit assumption that ethical theory can solve fundamental problems in epistemology, and the excessive reliance on testimony as a fundamental source of knowledge. Against the former, it is argued that ethical theories are based on cultural prejudicesto a higher extent than epistemological theories. Against the latter, argumentation is proposed as a more important epistemic practice than testimony.
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  8. Beverly Zink-Sawyer (forthcoming). Book Review: Preaching as Testimony. [REVIEW] Interpretation 62 (2):218-220.
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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 (1996). Transmitting Knowledge. Noûs 30 (1):99-111.
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  3. Jonathan E. Adler (1994). Testimony, Trust, Knowing. Journal of Philosophy 91 (5):264-275.
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  4. Jonathan E. Adler (1994). Testimony, Trust, Knowing. Journal of Philosophy 91 (5):264-275.
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  5. 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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  6. Jonas Ahlskog (2014). Benjamin McMyler, Testimony, Trust and Authority (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Viii + 178, Price £40.00 Hb. [REVIEW] Philosophical Investigations 37 (1):98-102.
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  7. Ben Almassi, Comments on Tim Kenyon's "Oral History and the Epistemology of Testimony". Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective.
  8. 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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  9. 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.
  10. 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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  11. James Andow (2015). A Semantic Solution to the Problem with Aesthetic Testimony. Acta Analytica 30 (2):211-218.
    There is something peculiar about aesthetic testimony. It seems more difficult to gain knowledge of aesthetic properties based solely upon testimony than it is in the case of other types of property. In this paper, I argue that we can provide an adequate explanation at the level of the semantics of aesthetic language, without defending any substantive thesis in epistemology or about aesthetic value/judgement. If aesthetic predicates are given a non-invariantist semantics, we can explain the supposed peculiar difficulty with aesthetic (...)
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  12. 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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  13. Robert Audi (2006). Testimony as an a Priori Basis of Acceptance: Problems and Prospects. Philosophica 78.
    This paper explores the possibility that testimony is an a priori source, even if not a basic source, of rational support for certain kinds of cognitions, particularly for a kind of acceptance that it is natural to call presumption. The inquiry is conducted in the light of two important distinctions and the relation between them. One distinction is between belief and acceptance, the other between justification and rationality. Cognitive acceptance is also distinguished from behavioral acceptance, and their normative status is (...)
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  14. Robert Audi (2006). Testimony, Credulity, and Veracity. In Jennifer Lackey & Ernest Sosa (eds.), The Epistemology of Testimony. Oxford University Press 25--49.
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  15. 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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  16. Robert Audi (2004). The a Priori Authority of Testimony. Philosophical Issues 14 (1):18–34.
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  17. 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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  18. 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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  19. 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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  20. Nathan Ballantyne (2015). The Significance of Unpossessed Evidence. Philosophical Quarterly 65 (260):315-335.
  21. 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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  22. David W. Barnes (2005). Imwinkelried's Argument for Normative Ethical Testimony. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 33 (2):234-241.
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  23. David James Barnett (2015). Is Memory Merely Testimony From One's Former Self? Philosophical Review 124 (3):353-392.
    A natural view of testimony holds that a source's statements provide one with evidence about what the source believes, which in turn provides one with evidence about what is true. But some theorists have gone further and developed a broadly analogous view of memory. According to this view, which this essay calls the “diary model,” one's memory ordinarily serves as a means for one's present self to gain evidence about one's past judgments, and in turn about the truth. This essay (...)
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  24. 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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  25. 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’s standard 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 (...)
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  26. Endre Begby (2014). Lexical Norms, Language Comprehension, and the Epistemology of Testimony. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 44 (3-4):324-342.
    It has recently been argued that public linguistic norms are implicated in the epistemology of testimony by way of underwriting the reliability of language comprehension. This paper argues that linguistic normativity, as such, makes no explanatory contribution to the epistemology of testimony, but instead emerges naturally out of a collective effort to maintain language as a reliable medium for the dissemination of knowledge. Consequently, the epistemologies of testimony and language comprehension are deeply intertwined from the start, and there is no (...)
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  27. I. Testimony-Based Belief (2006). Testimony, Credulity, and Veracity. In Jennifer Lackey & Ernest Sosa (eds.), The Epistemology of Testimony. Oxford University Press 25.
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  28. Matthew A. Benton (2016). Expert Opinion and Second‐Hand Knowledge. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 92 (2):492-508.
    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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  29. Matthew A. Benton (2014). Believing on Authority. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 6:133-144.
    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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  30. 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.
  31. Lisa Ann Bergin (1999). Knowledge, Communication, and Difference: An Integrative Theory. Dissertation, University of Minnesota
    This dissertation contributes to a theory of knowledge which incorporates both the social and the diverse natures of our knowledge. In recommending this theory, I oppose a traditional view of knowledge. That view holds that knowers must gain knowledge on their own and that they are, as knowers, identical. I argue that, although the traditional epistemology has been challenged, none of the challengers offers an epistemology which simultaneously analyzes human knowledge communication abilities and our diverse understandings of the world. Thus, (...)
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  32. Sven Bernecker & Fred Dretske (eds.) (2000). Knowledge: Readings in Contemporary Epistemology. Oxford University Press.
    Epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, is concerned with how we know what we do and what justifies us in believing what we do. The philosophical literature in epistemology has mushroomed in the past four decades, and interest in the topic continues to be widespread. In this anthology, Sven Bernecker and Fred Dretske have collected the most important and influential writings in epistemology. It provides the fullest review to date of contemporary epistemology, including frequently neglected topics such as dominant responses (...)
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  33. Sibajiban Bhattacharyya (1994). Epistemology of Testimony and Authority: Some Indian Themes and Theories. In A. Chakrabarti & B. K. Matilal (eds.), Knowing From Words. Kluwer 69--97.
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  34. Purushottama Bilimoria (1991). Evidence in Testimony and Tradition. Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research 9 (1):73-84.
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  35. J. Biro (1995). Testimony and "a Priori" Knowledge. Philosophical Issues 6:301-310.
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  36. Tomas Bogardus & Anna Brinkerhoff (2015). The Epistemology of Disagreement: New Essays By David Christensen and Jennifer Lackey. Analysis 75 (2):339-342.
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  37. 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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  38. Yves Bouchard (ed.) (2002). Perspectives on Coherentism. Editions du Scribe.
  39. Luc Bovens & Stephen Leeds, The Epistemology of Social Facts: The Evidential Value of Personal Experience Versus Testimony.
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  40. Kenneth Boyd (forthcoming). Testifying Understanding. Episteme:1-25.
    While it is widely acknowledged that knowledge can be acquired via testimony, it has been argued that understanding cannot. While there is no consensus about what the epistemic relationship of understanding consists in, I argue here that regardless of how understanding is conceived there are kinds of understanding that can be acquired through testimony: easy understanding and easy-s understanding. I address a number of aspects of understanding that might stand in the way of being able to acquire understanding through testimony, (...)
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  41. Gordon Brittan (1994). History, Testimony, and Two Kinds of Scepticism. In A. Chakrabarti & B. K. Matilal (eds.), Knowing From Words. Kluwer 273--295.
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  42. 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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