David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Episteme 4 (3):285-304 (2007)
Testimony is an indispensable source of information. Yet, contrary to ‘literalism’, speakers rarely mean just what they say; and even when they do, that itself is something the hearer needs to realize. So, understanding instances of testimony requires more than merely reading others' messages off of the words they utter. Further, a very familiar and theoretically well-entrenched approach to how we arrive at such understanding serves to emphasize, not merely how deeply committed we are to testimony as a reliable source of information, but that epistemological questions about testimonial belief are – perhaps even must be – posterior to such a commitment. This result does not itself dictate any particular views on the epistemology of testimony. However, not only does the failure of literalism not support the view that the justificatory basis of testimony-based beliefs is importantly inferential; it in fact undermines a key premise in one important argument for the view that one needs independent, positive reasons for accepting a given testimonial report. More generally, the present paper illustrates how discussions of the epistemology of testimony might usefully interact with an examination of the epistemology of understanding
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