What Is Testimony?

What Is Testimony?

No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish... When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh one miracle against the other... and always reject the greater miracle

- David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Podcast of the Day

In our attempts to know and understand the world around us, we inevitably rely on others to provide us with reliable testimony about facts and states of affairs to which we do not have access. What is the nature of this reliance? Do testifiers simply provide us with especially compelling evidence? Should we regard the testimony of others as only so much more local data in our cognitive environment? Or is there a deeper sense in which much of our knowledge depends on others?

Listen to Sanford Goldberg discuss his book Relying on Others on the New Books in Philosophy podcast

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

By definition, an expert is someone whose learning and experience lets them understand a subject deeper than you or I do (assuming we're not an expert in that subject, too). The weird thing about having to write this essay at all is this: Who would have a problem with that? Doesn't everyone want their brain surgery done by an expert surgeon rather than the guy who fixes their brakes? On the other hand, doesn't everyone want their brakes fixed by an expert auto mechanic rather than a brain surgeon who has never fixed a flat?

Every day, all of us entrust our lives to experts from airline pilots to pharmacists. Yet, somehow, we've come to a point where people can put their ignorance on a subject of national importance on display for all to see — and then call it a virtue.

Continue reading Adam Frank's short article: Why Expertise Matters

Further Reading

Given that speakers of a language sometimes assert falsehoods and fail to be sincere, under what conditions, if any, is someone's word alone sufficient to justify the beliefs a hearer acquires from those assertions? Of course, besides the word of the speaker, hearers also causally depend in believing testimony on other fundamental sources of knowledge like perception, memory, learning, and inference. Can the reliability of testimony be justified by appeal to these sources?

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Epistemological Problems of Testimony by Jonathan Adler

Related Topics

Skepticism | The Value of Knowledge

Each day I post short quotes by great thinkers on a particular philosophical, scientific or historical topic, along with videos, interviews and articles by contemporary thinkers that explore each topic in more detail. Find me on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to learn about the ideas that helped shape our world.


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