Testimony and the epistemic uncertainty of interpretation
- 335 Downloads
In the epistemology of testimony it is often assumed that audiences are able to reliably recover asserted contents. In the philosophy of language this claim is contentious. This paper outlines one problem concerning the recovery of asserted contents (the ‘recovery problem’), and argues that it prevents audiences from gaining testimonial knowledge in a range of cases (even when the speaker is both sincere and a reliable belief former). The recovery problem, in essence, is simply that due to the collective epistemic limitations of the speaker and audience speakers will, in certain cases, be insensitive to the ways in which they may be misinterpreted. As a result audiences’ beliefs will often fail the safety and sensitivity conditions on knowledge. Once the problem has been outlined and distinguished from several related problems in the philosophy of language and the epistemology of testimony, a series of responses are considered. The first response holds that audiences possess defeaters in recovery problem cases, and thus wouldn’t form beliefs. The second response holds that the beliefs audiences form are very coarse grained, meaning they are not very vulnerable to failures of safety and sensitivity. The final response holds that the objects of speaker meaning are not propositional. All three responses are found to be unsatisfactory.
KeywordsTestimony Communication Context sensitivity
This paper has greatly benefited from comments and discussion with James Andow, Sebastian Becker, Mark Bowker, Sarah Broadie, Jessica Brown, Herman Cappelen, Don Fallis, Daniel Fogal, Patrick Greenough, Katherine Hawley, Allan Hazlett, Nick Hughes, Torfinn Huvenes, Bruno Jacinto, Colin Johnston, Jennifer Lackey, Matt Mckeever, Anders Schoubye, Peter Sullivan, Brian Weatherson, Stephen Wright, and an anonymous referee for this journal. I would also like to thank audiences at the University of St Andrews, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Vienna at which earlier versions of this paper were presented. This research was supported by the United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Council.
- Buckwalter, W., Rose, D., & Turri, J. (2013). Belief through thick and thin. Nous. doi: 10.1111/nous.12048.
- Cappelen, H., & Lepore, E. (2004). Insensitive semantics: A defence of semantic minimalism and speech act pluralism. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Carston, R. (2002). Thoughts and utterances: The pragmatics of explicit communication. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Fricker, E. (2003). Understanding and knowledge of what is said. In A. Barber (Ed.), Epistemology of language (pp. 325–367). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Heck, R. (2002). Do demonstratives have senses? Philosopher’s Imprint, 2(2), 1–33.Google Scholar
- Kaplan, D. (1989). Afterthoughts. In J. Perry & H. Wettstein (Eds.), Themes from Kaplan. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Kaplan, M. (1996). Decision theory as philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- King, J. (2014a). Speaker intentions in context. Nous, 48(2), 219–237.Google Scholar
- King, J. (2014b). The metasemantics of contextual sensitivity. In A. Burgess & B. Sherman (Eds.), Metasemantics: New essays on the foundations of meaning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Recanati, F. (2004). Literal meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Sidelle, A. (1991). The answering machine paradox. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 21, 525–539.Google Scholar
- Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (1986). Relevance: Communication and cognition. Oxford/Cambridge, MA: Blackwell/Harvard University Press.Google Scholar