Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Epistemic Responsibility 010: Gullibility (Elizabeth Fricker)

School has started, and an initial essay on testimony is perfect for the theme of this series.

Fricker, Elizabeth (1994). "Against Gullibility," in B.K. Matalal and A. Chakrabari (eds.) Knowing from Words, pp. 125-161, Kluwer Academic Publishers.

This article is difficult to understand. Fricker loaded up the front 65% of the article with a lot of preparation work that I found difficult to understand without a hint as to what she was preparing it for. It was like looking at the blueprints for a foundation without any idea of what was going to be built on it.

What she ultimately built on her foundation is the idea that listeners had an obligation to assess the trustworthiness of testifiers. More specifically, if one hears testimony and acquires a belief as a result, this belief is not justified (that is, it fails to count as knowledge) unless the listener has done due diligence in determining whether or not the speaker can be trusted.

Recall that the thesis that I am currently finding attractive says that the justification with respect to a justified belief is a moral justification. An agent's belief that p is epistemically justified if and only if it is morally justified.

I will grant at the start that I am proposing this only tentatively at the moment. I suspect there may be some serious problems with it. However, I have not found them yet.

Put in terms of desirism, this principle would state that a belief is justified if and only if a person with good desires and lacking bad desires would have acquired that belief

Fricker's account fits this model. A person with good desires and lacking bad desires would not accept testimony blindly. Moral responsibility requires that she take a look at the testimony and assess its likely quality.

In earlier postings in this series, I looked at the case of a person who glances at a clock and determines that the time is 11:56. As it turns out, the clock is stopped. However, our agent happened to look at the clock at 11:56 and, on the basis of the clock's testimony, adopted the belief that the time was 11:56. This is a true belief. It is justified by looking at the clock. Therefore, according to the standard view, the agent knows that it is 11:56, even though he acquired the belief by looking at a stopped clock.

I objected to that account on the grounds that the belief was not, in fact, justified. I illustrated this by increasing what was at stake. In my case, the agent was required to perform an action at 12:04 to avoid dire consequences. Such an agent, I argued, had an obligation to determine if the timepiece was reliable, if he had an opportunity to do so. These standards turned out to be exactly the standards that Fricker defended in her article. They amount to an obligation to look for defeaters - evidence that the testifier (in this case, the clock) could be trusted. An agent who does not do this cannot be said to have a justified belief.

It is certainly the case that his claim, "I knew that it was 11:56" would not hold up in a court of law against a charge of negligence. And, yet, if he truly did know, then it should be able to hold up in a court of law.

So, I think I can rely on Fricker's article as providing support to my thesis. Though, now that I have gotten to the end and I know what she was arguing for, I will need to return to the beginning to give an intelligent assessment to the foundation on which she built this conclusion.

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