DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P049-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 16, 2021, from

Article Summary

Philosophical treatment of the problems posed by the concept of knowledge has been curiously blind to the role played by testimony in the accumulation and validation of knowledge or, for that matter, justified belief. This is all the more surprising, given that an enormous amount of what any individual can plausibly claim to know, whether in everyday affairs or in theoretical pursuits, is dependent in various ways upon what others have to say. The idea that someone can only really attain knowledge if they get it entirely by the use of their own resources provides a seductive ideal of autonomous knowledge that may help explain the way epistemologists have averted their gaze from the topic of testimony. But, unless they are prepared to limit the scope of knowledge dramatically, theorists who support this individualist ideal of autonomy need to explain how our wide-ranging reliance upon what we are told is consistent with it. Characteristically, those who consider the matter acknowledge the reliance, but seek to show that the individual cognizer can ‘justify’ dependence upon testimony by sole resort to the individual’s resources of observation, memory and inference. Testimony is thus viewed as a second-order source of knowledge. But this reductionist project is subject to major difficulties, as can be seen in David Hume’s version. It has problems with the way the proposed justification is structured, with its assumptions about language and with the way the individual’s epistemic resources are already enmeshed with testimony. The success or failure of the reductionist project has significant implications for other areas of inquiry.

    Citing this article:
    Coady, C.A.J.. Testimony, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P049-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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