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Understanding Testimony

Nettel, EP; (2015) Understanding Testimony. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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I present and defend an account of how it is that we acquire knowledge from what others tell us and an account of what it is for us to understand the utterances of others that can sustain this epistemology. In Chapters 1 & 2 I present my account of how it is that we can acquire knowledge from others. I say that a speaker makes available irreducibly testimonial knowledge to their audience by voicing knowledge. Testimonial knowledge is a distinctive kind of knowledge that one can get by way of transmission from a knowledgable source. One voices knowledge that p when knowledge that p (one’s own, or another’s) contributes in the required way in a causal explanation of why one produced one’s utterance. I defend the claim that, so long as a speaker in fact voices knowledge that p, then their audience can come to know that p by believing the speaker, regardless of what reasons they initially had to think that the speaker uttered truth or falsity. In Chapter 3 I show that the causal explanation of a speaker’s linguistic behaviour will also appeal to expectations that the speaker has of their audience; expectations that they will have understood what speaker has done in so speaking. Understanding utterances is conceived of in terms of audiences meeting these expectations, by recognising what it is that the speaker thereby means to be doing. Chapter 4 contains a defence of a proposal provided by Ian Rumfitt, which conceives of such understanding as a state of possessing capacities to make inferences specific to the kinds of acts that speakers’ (mean to) perform with their utterances. I end, in Chapter 5, by applying this picture of understanding to some historic debates in which the notion has featured, highlighting its explanatory advantages over some rivals.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Understanding Testimony
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Philosophy
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1471270
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