Some draft thoughts I wrote an age ago – keen to explore this testimony stuff again at some point Testimonial knowledge implies a particular take on knowledge in which a proposition (x) may be passed from a speaker S to a hearer H such that if a speaker knows x (Sx) and speaks x in the presence of H, then Hx. On this view testimony is something like memory, and involves a direct transfer. Of course, on the part of the listener this is problematic (my listener might not be equipped to understand x, indeed my listener may not even speak my own language!) – thus further constraints must be introduced there (and various people explore this issue with regard to testimony and virtue epistemology, etc.).  However, as [Lackey points out]1, this transmissive view is clearly problematic. Testimony can be generative, a speaker does not need to know the proposition in order for knowledge to be acquired through their testimony.  (Testimony is also social of course…) This raises an interesting possibility, and I wonder what role testimony should be said to play in this one (if indeed, any – testimony clearly cannot explain ALL knowledge types after all). What of the kind of knowledge in which two interlocutors share their own testimony, and through their processes co-construct new knowledge, not knowledge that is “owned” by either one of them, but rather is built together. It is not hard to think of contexts in which a speaker (S) asks a question of H, and even within the constraints of that single IRF (Initial, Response, Feedback) or even just QA (Question, Answer) both S&H’s knowledge is advanced. Fricker (2012) touches on some of these issues, but that case seems to me to more closely regard the ways in which a group might be said to testify – that is, can testimony be collective. In contrast, my interest is in: 1. Whether or not groups can co-construct testimonial knowledge 2. Whether or not the act of testifying can bring about new knowledge in both hearer and speaker 3. Whether ‘2’ can be a form of ‘1’ (that is, knowledge is not simply generated in both, but co-constructed together) In some such cases, we imagine a generative process that goes beyond the case Lackey offers (in which the testifier gives information that they do not believe, but is true, and the hearer comes to know this knowledge through their testimony).  In the cases I am thinking of, through the testimony of S in some particular context, new knowledge is created individually. Perhaps by H, perhaps by S, beyond the individual testimony spoken. Now in fact, this is also likely to be very common. Cases in which H and S’s knowledge states match exactly but for one piece of testimony will be rare, thus any testimony is likely to at least fit differently into the hearer’s knowledge states, and quite possibly extend their own knowledge beyond that of the speaker’s. A questioner asking whether there is a connection between ‘a’ and ‘b’ brings a testifier to connect two things that they know about, but had not connected before, in such a way as to create new knowledge through their testimony. Another possibility is that through the testimony of S to H, some co-construction of knowledge occurs. That is, the testimony isn’t just generative of knowledge for an individual (S or H) in a way that goes beyond assimilation of the claim made, but – through interaction – new knowledge is created for both. Although, such cases might  simply reflect the kinds of psychology research (jigsawing) in which participants each receive partial information which they must share in order to complete a problem – that  is, possibly generative (although not necessarily), but not co-constructive, as it’s simply about sharing information. Note that self-testimony could be generative (“oh, I didn’t know that till I said it”) to both parties, but this still probably isn’t co-construction.  In those cases a requirement is probably shared verbalisation, alongside a shared conceptual resource space (paper and pen, for example). The thinking happens externally, it is in the social interaction.  Whether or not this is testimony in itself is an interesting question, but the other question – re: whether or not testimony can go beyond assimilation of multiple testifiers to be co-constructed (if not co-constructive itself) – seems to be addressed by this sort of example.


Fricker, Miranda. “Group Testimony? The Making of A Collective Good Informant.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 84.2 (2012): 249-276.

Lackey, Jennifer. Learning from words: Testimony as a source of knowledge. Oxford University Press, 2008.