Towards Social Accounts of Testimonial Asymmetries

Noûs 51 (1):49–73 (2017)
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there seems to be some kind of asymmetry, at least in some cases, between moral testimony and non-moral testimony, between aesthetic testimony and non-aesthetic testimony, and between religious testimony and non-religious testimony. In these domains, at least in some cases, we object to deference, and for this reason expect people to form their beliefs on non-testimonial grounds, in a way that we do not object to deference in paradigm cases of testimonial knowledge. Our philosophical puzzle is therefore: what explains these (apparent) asymmetries (or are they merely apparent)? My aim here is to criticize three accounts of these testimonial asymmetries and to suggest an alternative strategy for solving our puzzle. I’ll consider the idea that testimony cannot be a source of understanding (§2), the idea that testimony cannot be a source of acquaintance (§3), and the idea that testimonial belief is not conducive to moral virtue (§4). These accounts all explain the badness of testimonial belief, in the relevant cases, by appeal to its consequences for the believer—respectively, a lack of understanding, acquaintance, or moral virtue. I’ll conclude by suggesting a way forward (§5): we should try to understand the badness of testimonial belief, in the relevant cases, as deriving from its consequences for the believer’s society.

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Allan Hazlett
Washington University in St. Louis

Citations of this work

Understanding Philosophy.Michael Hannon & James Nguyen - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.
The Social Value of Non-Deferential Belief.Allan Hazlett - 2016 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 94 (1):131-151.
A defense of the very idea of moral deference pessimism.Max Lewis - 2020 - Philosophical Studies (8):2323-2340.
Aesthetic Testimony and the Test of Time.Jon Robson - 2018 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 96 (3):729-748.
The Puzzle of Philosophical Testimony.Chris Ranalli - 2020 - European Journal of Philosophy 28 (1):142-163.

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