Can Testimony Generate Understanding?

Social Epistemology 33 (6):477-490 (2019)
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Can we gain understanding from testifiers who themselves fail to understand? At first glance, this looks counterintuitive. How could a hearer who has no understanding or very poor understanding of a certain subject matter non-accidentally extract items of information relevant to understanding from a speaker’s testimony if the speaker does not understand what she is talking about? This paper shows that, when there are theories or representational devices working as mediators, speakers can intentionally generate understanding in their hearers by engaging in relevant speech acts without understanding the topic of these speech acts themselves. More specifically, I argue that testifiers can intentionally elicit understanding of empirical phenomena in their hearers even if they themselves lack such understanding – granted that they properly understood the epistemic mediators involved.

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Federica Isabella Malfatti
University of Innsbruck


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