Assertion and Testimony

In Sanford Goldberg (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Assertion. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2020)
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[The version of this paper published by Oxford online in 2019 was not copy-edited and has some sense-obscuring typos. I have posted a corrected (but not the final published) version on this site. The version published in print in 2020 has these corrections.] Which is more fundamental, assertion or testimony? Should we understand assertion as basic, treating testimony as what you get when you add an interpersonal addressee? Or should we understand testimony as basic, treating mere assertion -- assertion without testimony -- as what you get when you subtract that interpersonal relation? In this chapter, I’ll argue for the subtractive approach and for the more general thesis that its treatment of the interpersonal element in assertion makes understanding that interpersonal element the key to understanding how assertion expresses belief. My theory of belief-expression in assertion treats it as internalizing the transmission of belief in testimony. How we understand that internalizing move depends on how we conceptualize the interpersonal element in testimony. Since what I’ll call the Command Model does not give us the conceptual resources to make this move, we should adopt an alternative that I’ll call the Custodial Model, on which a testifier aims not to convince her addressee but to reason with him – to give him reasons to believe what she tells him grounded in her trustworthiness in thus attempting to influence him. The subtractive approach to assertion thus rests on a key distinction between the aims of reasoning and persuasion.
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First archival date: 2020-05-26
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