On the Possibility of Knowledge through Unsafe Testimony

Social Epistemology 34 (5):513-526 (2020)
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If knowledge requires safety, then one might think that when the epistemic source of knowledge is testimony, that testimony must itself be safe. Otherwise, will not the lack of safety transfer from testimony to hearer, such that hearer will lack knowledge? Resisting this natural line of reasoning, Goldberg (2005; 2007) argues that testimonial knowledge through unsafe testimony is possible on the basis of two cases. Lackey (2008) and Pelling (2013) criticize Goldberg’s examples. But Pelling goes on to provide his own example that attempts to show that Goldberg’s thesis is true: one can gain safe testimonial belief from unsafe testimony. If any of these counterexamples were correct, they would undermine the main reason to think that knowledge based on unsafe testimony is impossible. My aim in this paper is to critically assess these arguments, and to consider the possibility of knowledge through unsafe testimony. Drawing a general moral from the analysis of these cases, I shall contend that it is impossible to acquire safe belief solely on the basis of unsafe testimony. If so, then testimonial knowledge based solely on unsafe testimony is impossible.

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B. J. C. Madison
United Arab Emirates University


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