Fricker on Testimony

At the pre-Central celebration of Jennifer’s book, listening to an interesting problem now being discussed by Lizzie Fricker. Here ’tis:

when you don’t fully trust a source, you tend to encode your source in the belief. Instead, of believing what they say, you believe something like: joe says (thinks) that p.

Now, take contextual terms. Lizzie’s example is ‘pricey’. Now when I fully trust you, I can’t just believe what you say, but have to encode your standards in some way. How? A clumsy way is to invent a term: ‘pricey-according-to-Joe’. I don’t think I do that, but something like this has to be done.

But then the handling of contextuality in testimony looks uncomfortably close to encoding a lack of full trust in one’s sources, and that would be a bad result. (It is also interesting to think about what happens to epistemic talk if one is a standard contextualist about ‘knows’.)

Maybe the discussion will show a way out of the problem.


Fricker on Testimony — 3 Comments

  1. Why don’t we just do a one-time conversion from the person’s standards to ours, when we encode a typical trusted claim. E.g., my friend Michael is wealthy, so when he says “x is pricey”, I know to trust his testimony — he’s honest, and he knows the cost of things– I convert that to “x is _really, really_ pricey”, and believe it in that form.

    Where no such easy conversion is possible (e.g., movie recommendations) I suspect we often just do a mix of explicitly encoding the source, and just foregoing the possible benefit of trusting their evaluation.

    So, where’s the puzzle?

  2. Hi Jonathan, that would work if every case where the standards are unclear were a case where trust is (legitimately) withheld, and maybe that’s right. I notice your strategy generalizes on the standard–instead of encoding the specific standard in question, you encode some more general standard within which the specific standard is assumed to fall.

    Aesthetic judgments cause other problems because of the assumed subjectivity involved. I still worry though that the encoding conversion is more specific and maybe specific enough that it looks too much like lack of trust cases, and we shouldn’t confuse those two even if in some cases they go together. But that’s trying very hard to find an issue here, and maybe it’s trying too hard…

  3. As Fricker lays out the case, the speaker’s standard for pricey-ness is $15 and up, while the hearer’s standard is $30 and up. The question is how the hearer can encode the thing she comes to believe on the basis of the speaker’s utterance of “the restaurant is pricey”.

    But if you distinguish the case where the listener is aware of the speaker’s standard from the case where she is not, it’s not clear to me where the mystery is. If the hearer is aware of the standard, the most natural thing to say is that the proposition she comes to believe on the basis of the testimony is that a meal at the restaurant costs more than $15. If the hearer is not aware of the speaker’s standard, then in the relevant sense she does not know what was said.

    In the second case, there are of course other things the hearer can come to know on the basis of the utterance. But since the content of the expression uttered is not among them, it seems like there is no specifically testimonial problem here. (Fabrizio Cariani made a related point in q&a. Fricker’s response, I think, was to push back on the idea that we do not know what was said in cases where we lack knowledge of the linguistically relevant features of the context.)

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