Testimony: The Epistemology of Linguistic Acceptance

Dissertation, Stanford University (2000)

Peter Graham
University of California, Riverside
My thesis is that testimonial knowledge of particular matters of fact is a species of perceptual knowledge. There are two rival views. The first holds that testimonial knowledge is a species of inductive knowledge. According to inductivism, we learn from others because we have inductively established that testimony is a reliable source. I argue that this view is too demanding. The second holds that testimonial knowledge is, like memory, preservative. According to preservativism, a hearer learns from a speaker because the speaker's knowledge is transferred to the hearer. Testimony preserves knowledge across subjects at a time as memory preserves knowledge within a subject over time. This view is subject to counter-example. What matters to whether the hearer teams is not whether the speaker knows, but whether the hearer's cognitive state of taking the speaker to state that P adequately grounds the belief that P. One way to account for "adequate grounds" is in terms of Information-carrying I argue that knowledge is not preserved or transferred through testimony, rather Information is conveyed. This shows that testimonial knowledge is perceptual knowledge, for perceptual knowledge depends on adequate grounds and not prior knowledge. Testimonial knowledge, like standard cases of perceptual knowledge, is original. Call my position originalism. ;There are three main sources of opposition. First, linguistic acceptance is inferential in a way that perceptual belief is not. Second, acceptance, if reliable, is reliable in a way that perceptual belief is not. Third, testimony involves agency, free will, and the following of norms and perceptual belief does not. In reply I argue that linguistic acceptance that the world is a certain way does not depend on believing that the speaker stated that it is that way, that even if there are differences between the way in which testimony is reliable and the way standard cases of perception are reliable, those differences are only contingent or epistemologically irrelevant, and that even though testimony does involve agency and norms in a way that vision, taste, and so on do not, that fact does not matter to whether testimonial knowledge is a species of perceptual knowledge
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