Can Testimony Transmit Understanding?

Theoria 86 (1):54-72 (2020)
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Abstract

Can we transmit understanding via testimony in more or less the same way in which we transmit knowledge? The standard view in social epistemology has a straightforward answer: no, we cannot. Three arguments supporting the standard view have been formulated so far. The first appeals to the claim that gaining understanding requires a greater cognitive effort than acquiring testimonial knowledge does. The second appeals to a certain type of epistemic trust that is supposedly characteristic of knowledge transmission (and maybe of the transmission of epistemic goods in general) and that is allegedly incompatible with understanding. The third aims to show that there is a certain aspect of understanding (what epistemologists these days like to call “grasping”) that cannot be passed on to another person via testimony alone. In this article, I show that all of these arguments can be resisted. Thus, there seem to be no compelling reasons to embrace the standard view.

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Federica Isabella Malfatti
University of Innsbruck

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