Audi on Testimony and Assurance

Robert Audi introduced a distinction between testifying that p and giving assurance that p to address a counterexample to his view that knowledge can’t be acquired from false testimony. So, if Joey comes to learn that there will be presents this year because Mama says, “Santa Claus will bring presents this year,” Robert holds that Mama gave assurance, but did not testify, that there will be presents this year.

He also argued for this distinction by claiming that Mama didn’t say that there will be presents this year.

I’m not sure about this, but I wonder. First, I wonder if testifying versus giving assurances tracks the distinction between what one said and what one didn’t. Second, I wonder whether it is true that Mama didn’t say that there will be presents. We don’t say everything entailed by our words, but we often say things beyond our literal words–that’s part of what Gricean mechanisms yield. I’m not sure about this, but I lean toward thinking that Mama did say that there will be presents this year, and the story of why she said it even though those weren’t her exact words is a pragmatic story of some sort.


Comments

Audi on Testimony and Assurance — 7 Comments

  1. I agree with you, Jon. Mama reassured Joey that there will be presents by asserting that there will be presents, and she asserted that there will be presents by asserting that Santa will bring presents.

    I take it that asserting p is a way of testifying that p.

  2. In this case, I’m pretty confident that Mama really did say that there will be presents. (“Oh no, Joey—I never said there will be presents. I merely said that Santa Claus will bring presents!” That sounds just plain false to me!) But I think that’s because the sentence Mama assertively uttered entails in an obvious way (or maybe: “all but entails”) that there will be presents. And it seems plausible to me that you (typically) say / assert not only the sentence you assertively utter, but also those things (all but) entailed in an obvious way by that sentence. (So, e.g., when you say “S knows that P,” you also thereby count as saying / asserting that P. “Oh no, I never said the bank would be open — all I said was that I knew that the bank would be open!”)

    Tricker cases: where the thing you’re assuring your listener of is something *merely* conveyed but not entailed by what you’ve uttered. So, e.g., “There’s a subway station around the corner.” That typically conveys that there’s a *working* subway station around the corner. But there’s a good sense in which you haven’t *said* that the station’s working. So have you given testimony to that effect?

    I think Sandy Goldberg says some interesting things about this issue in his book. He’s probably there with you now!

  3. Geoff, Fabrizio just pointed out to me that the Gricean story won’t do the job here, since implicatures can’t be entailments. So I think we need your story here. What is true is that not everything entailed is said, but of course that leaves a lot of room to draw distinctions among the entailments. This one is pretty obvious, and seems a good candidate for being something to which Mama testified.

  4. This may just be repeating what Geoff said in slightly different terms, but here goes anyway. Grice gives a test (the ‘cancellability test’) that supposedly distinguished what is said from what is implicated (though Matt Weiner has disputed the test).

    Here’s the idea: q is part of what is said by p, if an utterance of

    p, but not q

    is contradictory.
    And (as Geoff says)

    Santa will bring presents this Christmas, but there will be no presents this Christmas

    looks pretty contradictory. So ‘There will be presents’ is, according to Grice’s cancellability test, part of what is said in a typical utterance of ‘Santa will bring presents.’

  5. OK. It looks like I misunderstood what you meant by ‘what is said’. Since Grice was mentioned in the original post, I thought you might have his notion of what is said in mind. His notion is basically the semantic content of a statement. And the semantic content of a statement presumably should include all the semantic contents of the sentences entailed by the original sentence.

    What is the alternative notion of ‘what is said’ that you have in mind?

  6. Greg, I was just thinking about the empirical studies on how the notion of what is said is used in ordinary discourse. Indirect speech acts, such as conversational implicatures, get counted as things that the speaker said, and really obvious semantic implications do as well. So I think Mama will get counted as saying that there will be presents even if she only utters “SC wouldn’t disappoint you.”

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