Conspiracies And Lyes: Scepticism And The Epistemology of Testimony

Dissertation, University College London (1998)
Abstract
In Conspiracies and Lyes I aim to provide an epistemological account of testimony as one of our faculties of knowledge. I compare testimony to perception and memory. Its similarity to both these faculties is recognised. A fundamental difference is stressed: it can be rational to not accept testimony even if testimony is fulfilling its proper epistemic function because it can be rational for a speaker to not express a belief; or, as I say, it can be rational for a speaker to lye. This difference in epistemic function provides the basis for a sceptical argument against testimony. Scepticism is presented as a method rather than a problem: considering how to refute the sceptical argument is taken to be a means of evaluating theories as to how testimonial beliefs are warranted. I consider two strategies for refuting scepticism and, correlatively, two accounts of how testimonial beliefs are warranted. I show these accounts to be neutral across all theories of justification that entertain the project of investigating our faculties of knowledge. A reductionist account explains the warrant supporting our testimonial beliefs in terms of our inductive ground for accepting testimony. An anti-reductionist account explains the warrant supporting our testimonial beliefs in terms of our possessing an entitlement to accept testimony. I show how both positions can be intuitively motivated. In presenting reductionism I appeal to probability theory, empirical psychology and invoke David Hume. In presenting anti-reductionism I invoke John McDowell and Tyler Burge. A refutation of scepticism is provided by a hybrid of reductionism and anti-reductionism. The hybrid is conceived as part social externalism and part individual internalism. In developing this account I provide a means of conceptualising the dynamic that exists between individual knowers and communities of knowledge.
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