February 25, 2004

No respect, Part II

My dissertation was about the epistemology normative structure of testimony, with an eye to expanding to an account of all speech acts in terms of their normative structure. (That would've happened in Part III of the dissertation, if the simple example about how the argument worked for testimony hadn't swallowed the whole thing.) Well, now that speech acts have been declared unsexy, it's time to look at how the epistemology of testimony is doing.

Well, actually not that badly--people publish on it--but in a forced segue [PHWIP!] I'm going to point you to Brian Leiter's poll on the trends in American philosophy over the last 20 years. I wouldn't presume to comment--20 years ago I wasn't paying attention to much American philosophy other than Godel, Escher, Bach if that counts and maybe* The Mind's I--but one thing I note, that didn't get mentioned, is that the epistemology of testimony was almost completely dormant in Anglo-American philosophy 20 years ago. I sometimes cite C.A.J. Coady's APQ article from 1973, and then the next stuff I cite on testimony or trust comes from 1986--Angus Ross's "Why Believe What We Are Told?" (neglected for a while afterward until Richard Moran started talking about it), Annette Baier's "Trust and Antitrust," Judith Baker's "Trust and Rationality"; then the testimony literature is pretty sparse until Coady's 1992 book and Tyler Burge's 1993 "Content Preservation." (All dates and titles approximate, and I may have left out stuff.)

So that's a trend in one area that I find important. In The Significance of Philosophical Skepticism, whose date I completely forget, Barry Stroud mentions testimony as an important source of justification not much discussed by philosophers. That's not true anymore.--Maybe speech act theory will experience a similar comeback in the next couple decades.

*That is, I'm not sure if I was reading it then, I am sure much of it counts as philosophy.

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 25, 2004 06:24 PM

I think testimony's pretty cool. Your topic's sexiness has my backing.

Your "unsexy" link, however, is incorrect.

Posted by: Jonathan Ichikawa at February 25, 2004 08:16 PM

I quite agree with Jonathan. Look at all the sexy places testimony shows up: passionate affairs and the denials thereof, strip clubs* ("My name is Trinity"), dissertations...

*yes, of dubious sexiness; I know. I am trying to add a demotic element to Matt's hoity-toity blog.

Posted by: Esmerelda von Trappe at February 26, 2004 10:44 AM

Fixed the link--thanks Jonathan.

Speech acts also show up in sexy places. In fact, one of my favorite examples is sufficiently sexy, and personally revealing, that I can't post it here. I will e-mail it to Esmeralda if I can divine her secret identity.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 26, 2004 02:22 PM

My now retired colleague Michael Welbourne wrote on this - I don't know if his work is still read by people though.

Posted by: Chris Bertram at February 26, 2004 03:22 PM

That's true; Welbourne has a piece in the 1994 anthology Knowing from Words, and I'm sure it's not the first thing he wrote. I somehow forgot to mention Elizabeth Fricker's 1987 piece in the Aristotelian Society Proceedings, and I should've mentioned Edward Craig's Knowledge and the State of Nature as well--he places communication at the center of his conception of knowledge. Welbourne gets cited sometimes, Craig seemingly hardly at all; I get the sense that current debates don't directly match their concerns, which unfortunately can cause good work to be forgotten (as happened with Ross).

I should also mention that Indian philosophers have been talking about this for a long time--Knowing from Words brings together Indian and analytic perspectives. I don't know anything about the Indian tradition, unfortunately (though I understand Grice also finds echoes there).

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 27, 2004 11:51 AM