Epistemology of testimony

Paul Faulkner
Table of contents

The epistemology of testimony starts with our finding utterances, in the broad Gricean sense, intelligible. A straight assertion is a piece of testimony, but so too is something speaker meant, or a proposition communicated by a map or road sign. Testimony is any intelligible utterance whose acceptance by its recipient could be the acquisition of belief. And ‘testimony’ refers to that way of acquiring belief which is the acceptance of intelligibly presented content. This way of forming belief is fundamental to our cognitive lives. It is fundamental in that testimonial beliefs permeate every aspect of our cognitive life. Is the belief that this tree is an oak perceptual or testimonial? And it is fundamental in that if testimonial beliefs are not accorded the status of knowledge or regarded as warranted, then the consequence is a form of scepticism. We would not know much about history or geography. We would know little about the content of other minds. Science would not be recognised as a body of knowledge. We would not know the identity of our parents. So the second starting point in giving an epistemological theory of testimony is the presumption that the acceptance of testimony is not merely a way of acquiring belief, it is also a way of acquiring warranted belief and knowledge. The question is then, how is this the case?

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