, 25:341 | Cite as

Character and Knowledge: Learning from the Speech of Experts

  • Christopher W. TindaleEmail author


This paper discusses the ways in which a person’s character (ethos) and a hearer’s emotional response (pathos) are part of the complex judgments made about experts’ claims, along with an actual assessment of those claims (logos). The analysis is rooted in the work of Aristotle, but expands to consider work on emotion and cognition conducted by Thagard and Gigerenzer. It also draws on some conclusions of the general epistemology of testimony (of which expert testimony is a special subset), where it is argued that we learn not just from the transmission of another’s beliefs, but from the words they speak. This shifts the onus in testimony away from the intentions of a speaker onto the judgments of an audience, capturing better its social character and reflecting our experience of receiving testimony. I conclude, however, that accepting the arguments of experts involves much more than simply believing what they say.


Character Cognitive environment Ethos Expert testimony Trust Wakefield case 


  1. Aristotle. 2007. On rhetoric: A theory of civic discourse (trans: Kennedy, G.). 2E. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Damasio, Antonio R. 1994. Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason and the human brain. London: Picador.Google Scholar
  3. Dominus, Susan. 2011. The Denunciation of Dr. Wakefield. The New York Times Magazine (April 24).Google Scholar
  4. Gelfert, Axel. 2010. Reconsidering the role of inference to the best explanation in the epistemology of testimony. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 41: 386–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Gigerenzer, G. 2007. Gut feelings: The intelligence of the unconscious. London: Viking Penguin.Google Scholar
  6. Gigerenzer, G. 2008. Rationality for mortals: How people cope with uncertainty. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Goldberg, Sanford. 2010. Relying on others. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hamblin, C. 1970. Fallacies. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  9. John, Stephen. 2010. Expert testimony and epistemological free-riding: The MMR controversy, The Philosophical Quarterly (published online, November, 2010).Google Scholar
  10. Kahneman, D., and A. Tversky. 1996. On the reality of cognitive illusions. Psychological Review 103: 582–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kusch, M. 2002. Knowledge by agreement: The programme of communitarian epistemology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  12. Lackey, J. 2008. Learning from words: Testimony as a source of knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lehrer, K. 2006. Testimony and trustworthiness. In The epistemology of testimony, ed. J. Lackey, and E. Sosa, 149–159. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Locke, J. 1975 Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. P.H. Nidditch, Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  15. Perelman, CH. 1982. The Realm of Rhetoric (trans: Kluback, W.). Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  16. Smith, C.R. 2004. Ethos dwells persuasively: A hermeneutic reading of aristotle on credibility. In The ethos of rhetoric, ed. M.J. Hyde, and C.O. Schrag, 1–19. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  17. Sperber, D., and D. Wilson. 1986. Relevance: Communication and cognition. Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Thagard, P. 2000. Coherence in thought and action. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  19. Thagard, P. 2006. Hot thought: mechanisms and applications of emotional cognition. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  20. Tindale, C.W. 1999. Acts of arguing: A rhetorical model of argumentation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  21. Tindale, C.W. 2004. Rhetorical argumentation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.Google Scholar
  22. Todd, P.M., and G. Gigerenzer. 2000. Précis of simple heuristics that make us smart. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23: 727–780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Walton, D. 1989. Reasoned use of expertise in argumentation. Argumentation 3: 59–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Walton, D. 1996. Argumentation schemes for presumptive reasoning. Mahweh: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.Google Scholar
  25. Walton, D., C. Reed, and F. Macagno. 2008. Argumentation schemes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Willard, C. 1990. Authority. Informal Logic 12: 11–22.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation and RhetoricUniversity of WindsorWindsorCanada

Personalised recommendations