Thursday, August 30, 2018

Testimony 011: Fricker on Trustworthyness

Gad, I hate it when I write this wonderful post and I lose it due to my own carelessness.

I always try to recreate the beautiful text, stunning illustrations, and air-tight arguments that I know were in the original version of the post. But, alas, I cannot do so. It is a frustration to even try. The right and proper thing to do is to start over and to hope that I can create something half as good as I remember. It is a shame, indeed, that the world may have lost such brilliant prose as was contained in that original posting. It certainly is a great loss to humanity. However, there is no god, and the fates are unkind.

The topic of discussion is Elizabeth Fricker's concept of "Trustworthiness" and its role in whether or not one is justified to believe that P on the basis that somebody says that P.

So, for illustrative purposes, let us assume that I have told you that I have read the following article:

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

Are you justified in having a belief that I have read this paper on the basis of me telling you?

I sincerely doubt that you have anything else to base that belief on. I don't think that you are looking over my shoulder, or recording the keystrokes on my computer.

*waves to the FBI agents*

Consequently, if you do now believe that I have read this paper, then you believe it solely on the basis that I have told it to you. Are you justified in having that belief?

So, according to Fricker, you have knowledge of the following:

(1) Agent testifies that P

That is to say, you look at this blog post and you can see that I have said that I have read Fricker's paper.

And we want to get to:

(C) P

That is, your justified belief that I have read Fricker's paper.

For Fricker, this requires what we might call a bridge thesis - another claim of the form:

(2) If Agent testifies that P, then P.

Specifcially, Fricker phrases it as follows:

Trus1: If S were to assert that P on O, then it would be the case that P

Recall, the thesis that I am interested in is whether epistemic justification is a form of moral justification; whether H is epistemically justified in believing that P on the basis of S's testimony can be expressed in terms of H being morally justified in believing that P on the basis of S's testimony.

And, of course, when we throw desirsim into the mix, H is morally justified in believing that P on the basis of S's testimony if and only if a person with good desires and lacking bad desires would have believed P on the basis of S's testimony in those circumstances.

On this measure, it is interesting to note that what Fricker is arguing about is what may well be considered a moral principle:

The thesis under debate is:

[Presumptive Right] Thesis: On any occasion of testimony, the hearer has the epistemic right ot assume, without evidence, that the speaker is trustworthy, i.e, that what she says will be true, unless there are special circumstances which defeat the presumption. (Thus, she has the epistemic right to believe the speaker's assertion, unless usch defeating conditions obtain.)

Note that this follows the same model as the presumption of innocence in criminal trials. The accused is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. The testifer is presumed truth-telling unless proven otherwise. A difference between the two is that the former depends on evidence beyond a reasonable doubt and the latter requires only evidence. However, the structure of the principles are the same. And, whereas the first is a moral principle, the latter may be as well.

Now, it is important to note that Fricker is arguing against this thesis. Yet, the fact that she is arguing against the thesis does not provide an argument that this is not the case of a moral argument. Moral philosophers argue for and against the existence of certain moral principles all the time.

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