Testimony and Communication (Online)

August 9, 2022 - August 10, 2022

This event is online


University of Tartu
Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences
University of Southern Denmark
Jagiellonian University
University of Innsbruck
Umeå University
University of Oslo
Uppsala University


University of Oslo
University of Oslo

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Testimony is a communicative phenomenon: it is a means of acquiring knowledge through accepting the content that one recovers through a communicative exchange. Despite this, relatively little work has been done to connect work in the epistemology of testimony with work in philosophy of language and pragmatics on the nature of communication and communicative success. In recent years, more authors have begun to take an interest in these issues. This workshop will continue this trend by bringing together researchers working in epistemology and philosophy of language to explore the communicative foundations of knowledge acquisition.

This is an online event. Attendance is free, but please register for the event by 11th July 2022.

Workshop programme

9th August

09:50 – 10:00 Short welcome

10:00 – 11:20 Anna Drożdżowicz – ‘Situating native and non-native speakers’

11:20 – 11:40 Break

11:40 – 13:00 Mikkel Gerken – ‘The questionable value of Value-Based Reporting’

13:00 – 14:30 Break

14:30 – 15:50 Joey Pollock – ‘Do testimonial exchanges preserve content?’

15:50 – 16:10 Break

16:10 – 17:30 Andrew Peet – ‘Understanding communication’

10th August

10:00 – 11:20 J.P. Grodniewicz – ‘Effective filtering: Language comprehension and testimonial entitlement’

11:20 – 11:40 Break

11:40 – 13:00 Federica Isabella Malfatti – ‘From knowledge to understanding? What testimony cannot teach’

13:00 – 14:30 Break

14:30 – 15:50 Andreas Stokke – ‘Fiction, assertion, and testimony’

15:50 – 16:10 Break

16:10 – 17:30 Alex Davies – ‘Storing information in context-sensitive language’


Alex Davies – ‘Storing information in context-sensitive language’

On the one hand, we use language to store information. For instance, we write documents which are to be consulted by numerous users, across space and time, in different contexts. And we expect those documents to contain the same information for those different users. On the other hand, such documents are commonly composed using context-sensitive language: language whose content is sensitive to the context in which it is used. How can we ensure that such documents bear a more-or-less uniform content for their various users? This paper reviews proposals that have been made to date and then offers its own. It proposes that distribution of information in such a way requires something beyond the text itself: namely, a surrounding content infrastructure—something that stabilizes how a document’s varied users are likely to interpret the context-sensitive language in the document. The paper presents a case study of a content-infrastructure: the institutional structures surrounding documents that prohibit sexual harassment in universities.

Anna Drożdżowicz – ‘Situating native and non-native speakers’

In philosophy of language and linguistic communication we tend to focus on communicative interactions where the speaker and the hearer are both tacitly assumed to be native speakers of a given language. The conversational participants are thus assumed to partake in a communicative interaction on an equal linguistic (or language-related) footing. Nevertheless, it is nowadays more and more common that one of the participants is, so to say, at home in their language, whereas the other is, so to say, a newcomer to a given linguistic community. Multilingualism and second-language use are part and parcel of many communicative settings. We are all native speakers who occasionally interact with non-native speakers. Many of us are also non-native speakers who communicate with native speakers. Thus, in different communicative settings we can be situated either as a native or a non-native speaker.  But what difference (if any) does it make for a participant in a communicative interaction to occupy one of these positions?

The aim of this talk is to start making progress on the philosophical questions concerning communicative interactions between native and non-native speakers. I will do so by identifying three areas that shape the communicative dynamics between native and non-native speakers: (1) linguistic competence, (2) impressions of speaker identity and (3) metalinguistic negotiation. I will then map and discuss specific advantages (and respective disadvantages) that native and non-native speakers will often have in such communicative interactions. When relevant, I will also briefly outline their normative implications. This is a work in progress talk.

Mikkel Gerken – ‘The questionable value of Value-Based Reporting

My talk will concern public scientific testimony – i.e., scientific testimony directed at the lay public. Specifically, I will critically evaluate a science communication strategy which has risen to prominence in recent years – namely Value-Based Reporting. According to Value-Based Reporting science reporters should, whenever feasible, report a scientific hypothesis in a manner that appeals to the social values of the intended recipients. I argue that while there are some strong empirical reasons for adopting Value-Based Reporting, it faces serious challenges in delivering on a number of desiderata for science communication. In particular, Value-Based Reporting is in tension with core scientific values. On this basis, I consider another science communication strategy – Justification Reporting according to which science reporters should, whenever feasible, report appropriate aspects of the nature and strength of scientific justification, or lack thereof, for a reported scientific hypothesis. I conclude by arguing that although Value-Based Reporting and Justification Reporting may initially appear to be incompatible competitors, there are interesting ways of integrating them. In particular, I argue that such an integration may preserve the key advantages of Value-Based Reporting in a manner that addresses some of the noted challenges. 

J.P. Grodniewicz – ‘Effective filtering: Language comprehension and testimonial entitlement’

It is often suggested that we are equipped with a set of cognitive tools that help us to filter out unreliable testimony. But are these tools effective? I answer this question in two steps. Firstly, I argue that they are not real-time effective. The process of filtering, which takes place simultaneously with or right after language comprehension, does not prevent a particular hearer on a particular occasion from forming beliefs based on false testimony. Secondly, I argue that they are long-term effective. Some hearers sometimes detect false testimony, which increases speakers’ incentive for honesty, and stabilizes the practice of human communication in which deception is risky and costly. In short, filtering prevents us from forming a large number of beliefs based on false testimony not by turning each of us into a high-functioning polygraph but by turning the social environment of human communication into one in which such polygraphs are not required. Finally, I argue that these considerations support strong anti-reductionism about testimonial entitlement.

Federica Isabella Malfatti – ‘From knowledge to understanding? What testimony cannot teach’

The literature on understanding is divided into two broad camps. Reductionists believe that understanding involves nothing over and above true, warranted beliefs of a certain set of propositions. Anti-reductionists, on the other hand, claim that understanding and knowledge are different cognitive-epistemic states – that might overlap, but that might come apart and should, therefore, be kept distinguished. How do we settle this issue? Antireductionists often point to a difference in the way knowledge and understanding relate to testimony to support their position. Knowledge, they claim, can be easily acquired by reasonably trusting a reliable and trustworthy speaker in an epistemically friendly environment, while understanding is not the kind of achievement that can be testimonially transmitted. But if understanding were nothing over and above knowledge of some true propositions, we would expect it to be quite easily transmissible via testimony via speech acts of assertion – like knowledge generally is. Yet this is not what we observe. Hence, or so the antireductionist reasoning goes, understanding must involve something over and above knowledge of some true propositions. The overarching aim of this paper is to show that this line of argument fails. There are indeed differences in the way knowledge and understanding (sometimes) relate to testimony, but these differences tell us nothing conclusive about the relation between knowledge and understanding.

Andrew Peet – ‘Understanding communication’

In this talk I will do two things. Firstly I will rehearse a number of problems for the commonly assumed 'reliable information transfer' model of communication. Secondly, I will suggest an alternative: Communicative acts/events are acts/events that function to be objectually understood via the mental simulation of a perspective. Communication succeeds to the extent that such understanding is achieved.

Joey Pollock – ‘Do testimonial exchanges preserve content?’

The traditional view of the communicative foundations of testimony maintains that (a) successful testimonial exchanges typically preserve content (b) the content so preserved is rich and informative enough to serve as an appropriate object of testimonial belief and assertion, and (c) testimonial exchanges are relatively often successful, such that we gain a great deal of knowledge through accepting what others tell us. I argue that there is no notion of content that can support this traditional view. Minimalist approaches provide a notion of content that is easily preserved across an exchange, yet too shallow to serve as the object of testimony; maximalist approaches provide a notion of content that is sufficiently rich, but which is not typically preserved in communication; and moderate approaches do not provide a suitable compromise between these two extremes. I conclude that we should reject the idea that successful testimonial exchanges typically involve the preservation of (informative) testimonial contents.

Andreas Stokke – ‘Fiction, assertion, and testimony’

This paper concerns two main questions:

(i) Can an utterance be both fictive and assertoric?

(ii) Can fictional works include utterances that are assertoric but not fictive?

These questions are important for at least two related reasons. First, they have consequences for how to understand fictive utterances, the kind of speech act authors of a fictional work perform when telling their stories. Second, they have consequences for whether fictional works can include testimony, and hence for how to think about learning from fiction. I argue for the view that answers “no” to both (i) and (ii). Accordingly, I argue that fictional works are made up entirely of purely fictive utterances. I consider some consequences of this view for the testimonial status of fictional works.

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July 11, 2022, 5:00pm CET

Who is attending?

6 people are attending:

University of St. Andrews
University of Toronto, St. George Campus
and 4 more.

1 person may be attending:

Yale-NUS College

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