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Volume 51 • Number 1

January 2014



Monitoring, Testimony, and a Challenge from Social Psychology

by Adam Green

In a recent paper entitled “Against Credibility,” Joe Shieber points out that there is a vast literature in psychology that has direct bearing on the epistemology of testimony relating to our ability to detect the trustworthiness, deceit, or competence of testifiers (Shieber 2012). Despite the fact that testimony has received a great deal of attention in contemporary epistemology, this psychological literature has been largely ignored. Shieber seeks to rectify this deficit, and he holds that it is important to do so because the empirical picture painted by this literature is markedly different from the one assumed by contemporary epistemologists. According to Shieber, what one should learn from the empirical literature is that there are no marks of credibility or disreputability in testifiers to which we are well attuned. On this basis, Shieber argues that we should reject the idea that testimonial knowledge requires monitoring for signs of reliability. I am in agreement with Shieber over the importance of empirical work in the psychological sciences to philosophical theorizing about testimony. I want to draw a different moral from this literature, however. I argue that Shieber’s interpretation of the data is too narrowly focused on synchronic judgments concerning the character and motivation of informants. The empirical literature does, indeed, appear to show that we are bad at making such judgments. If, however, one focuses on sensitivity to the relative risk or safety of social situations and on the diachronic updating that accompanies long-term relationships, then one can see one’s way clear of Shieber’s argument.

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ISSN: 2152-1123