How to insult and compliment a testifier

Episteme 15 (1):50-64 (2018)
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Do we insult, offend or slight a speaker when we refuse her testimony? Do we compliment, commend or extol a speaker when we accept her testimony? I argue that the answer to both of these questions is “yes”, but only in some instances, since these respective insults and compliments track the reasons a hearer has for rejecting or accepting testimony. When disbelieving a speaker, a hearer may insult her because she judges the speaker to be either incompetent as a knower or insincere as a teller. However, there are many instances where we reject testimony without making this negative evaluation of the speaker, and as such, without paying her an insult. Testimonial compliments are fewer in number, and are not constitutive of “everyday” testimonial exchanges, since, speakers who are competent as knowers and sincere as tellers are merely behaving correctly in accordance with the norms of testifying. Nevertheless, deferring to an authority on belief can be complimentary to that speaker if by doing so we judge her to have some mastery in a particular domain. Testimonial insults and compliments have important moral implications, particularly with regard to epistemic injustice and therapeutic trust.

Author's Profile

Finlay Malcolm
University of Manchester


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