Contagious knowledge : a study in the epistemology of testimony
Knowledge is contagious, at least in the sense that the testimony of others can, on occasions, be a source of knowledge. Theories of the epistemology of testimony attempt to account for this, and one can discern two broad themes emerging from the currently burgeoning literature. The first is an inferentialist conception, according to which the justification for testimonial-based beliefs is a form of inductive reasoning, involving appeal to the general reliability of testimony established either as a result of past experience or through a priori reasoning. The second is a transmission conception, according to which the original, non-testimonial justification for the belief is transmitted to the recipient through the act of learning from testimony. In the first part of the thesis, I argue that both conceptions are inadequate. The inferentialist conception fails to distinguish, as I argue it must, between the epistemology of testimony, and other instances of learning from others. The transmission conception ignores the central role that the notion of a perspective plays in epistemic practices. Further, both conceptions fail to take seriously the rich epistemic resources provided by an adequate account of the distinct, experiential state that one enters into as a result of understanding an act of testimony. In the second part of the thesis, I provide just such a rich conception of testimonial experience. Firstly, I defend an account of the epistemic role of perceptual experiential states. Secondly, I defend a parallel between perceptual and testimonial experiential states that allow for a similarity in epistemic role. Thirdly, I develop an account of the act of understanding others that is congenial to the notion of testimonial experience. The 'contagion' metaphor is particularly appropriate in light of the conception that emerges, allowing as it does for an epistemically direct account of acquiring knowledge through testimony.