Testimony: acquiring knowledge from others

In Alvin I. Goldman & Dennis Whitcomb (eds.), Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. New York: Oxford University Press (2011)
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Virtually everything we know depends in some way or other on the testimony of others—what we eat, how things work, where we go, even who we are. We do not, after all, perceive firsthand the preparation of the ingredients in many of our meals, or the construction of the devices we use to get around the world, or the layout of our planet, or our own births and familial histories. These are all things we are told. Indeed, subtracting from our lives the information that we possess via testimony leaves them barely recognizable. Scientific discoveries, battles won and lost, geographical developments, customs and traditions of distant lands—all of these facts would be completely lost to us. It is, therefore, no surprise that the importance of testimony, both epistemological and practical, is nearly universally accepted. Less consensus, however, is found when questions about the nature and extent of our dependence on the word of others arise. Is our justified reliance on testimony fundamentally basic, for instance, or is it ultimately reducible to perception, memory, and reason? Is trust, or some related interpersonal feature of our social interaction with one another, essential to the acquisition of beliefs that are testimonially justified? Is testimonial knowledge necessarily acquired through transmission from speaker to hearer? Can testimony generate epistemic features in its own right? These are the questions that will be taken up in this paper and, as will become clear, their answers have far-reaching consequences for how we understand our place in the social world.



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Jennifer Lackey
Northwestern University

Citations of this work

Goldman and Siegel on the epistemic aims of education.Alessia Marabini & Luca Moretti - 2020 - Journal of Philosophy of Education 54 (3):492-506.
The Father of Lies?Hud Hudson - 2014 - Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion 5:147-166.

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References found in this work

The Varieties of Reference.Gareth Evans - 1982 - Oxford: Oxford University Press. Edited by John Henry McDowell.
Epistemology and cognition.Alvin I. Goldman - 1986 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Testimony: a philosophical study.C. A. J. Coady - 1992 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Knowledge in Perspective: Selected Essays in Epistemology.Ernest Sosa - 1991 - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Knowledge in Perspective: Selected Essays in Epistemology.Ernest Sosa - 1991 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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