The symmetry problem for testimonial conservatism

Synthese 199 (3-4):6149-6167 (2021)
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A prima facie plausible and widely held view in epistemology is that the epistemic standards governing the acquisition of testimonial knowledge are stronger than the epistemic standards governing the acquisition of perceptual knowledge. Conservatives about testimony hold that we need prior justification to take speakers to be reliable but recognise that the corresponding claim about perception is practically a non-starter. The problem for conservatives is how to establish theoretically significant differences between testimony and perception that would support asymmetrical epistemic standards. In this paper I defend theoretical symmetry of testimony and perception on the grounds that there are no good reasons for taking these two belief forming methods to have significant theoretical differences. I identify the four central arguments in defence of asymmetry and show that in each case either they fail to establish the difference that they purport to establish or they establish a difference that is not theoretically significant.

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Matthew Jope
University of Edinburgh


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