Trauma, trust, & competent testimony

Philosophical Psychology 37 (1):167-195 (2023)
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Public discourse implicitly appeals to what we call the “Traumatic Untrustworthiness Argument” (TUA). To motivate, articulate, and assess the TUA, we appeal to Hawley’s (2019) commitment account of trust and trustworthiness. On Hawley’s account, being trustworthy consists in the successful avoidance of unfulfilled commitments and involves three components: the actual avoidance of unfulfilled commitments, sincerity in one’s taking on elective commitments, and competence in fulfilling commitments one has incurred. In contexts of testimony, what’s at issue is the speaker’s competence and sincere intention to speak truthfully. The TUA targets trauma victims’ competence rather than their sincerity. According to the TUA, empirical evidence shows that trauma undermines victims’ trustworthiness with regard to speaking truthfully about their trauma by undermining their competence to remember the relevant event. We argue that what the evidence shows is rather that remembering traumatic events involves a distinct “mode of manifesting” the competence to remember particular events from the personal past. Trauma victims are competent to speak truthfully about their trauma and ought to be trusted at least with regard to the central details of the event. By suggesting otherwise, the TUA threatens an insidious form of epistemic injustice which Hawley’s account helps us locate.

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Author Profiles

Seth Goldwasser
University of Pittsburgh
Alison Springle
Dickinson College

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