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Agency Evidentialism: Trust and Doxastic Voluntarism

Snježana Prijić-Samaržija
p. 68-84

Abstract

In debates about trust and testimony, epistemologists have traditionally been divided into two groups: those who hold that accepting the testimony of other people should be a kind of credulity without evidence (anti-reductivism) and those who assert that we shouldn't recognize any testimony as true or justified without appropriate evidence (reductivism).
I will argue in favour of the evidentialist position about trust, or the stance that epistemically responsible trust is a matter of evidence, but also in favour of the thesis that the position assumed by anti-reductivists is not necessarily an anti-evidentialist position. The crucial difference between anti-reductivism and reductivism does not pertain to the question of evidence, but to epistemic agency. Finally, I will argue against anti-reductivism and in favour of agency evidentialism, wherein it is assumed that accepting testimony is a kind of agency where our (reflective) control is strong enough to ensure that our trust is responsible. The version of agency evidentialism which I here support presumes: (i) doxastic voluntarism, or the existence of intellectual freedom in the sense that we have to be capable of certain intellectual choices or decisions, and (ii) virtue epistemology, or the normative approach according to which the target of epistemic evaluation is an epistemic agent to whom we ascribe epistemic or intellectual virtues or vices (epistemic responsibility, epistemic conscientiousness or like.)

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  • 2 Reid (1983), Coady (1992), Dummett (1993), Burge (1993).
  • 3 Hume (1777), Adler (2002), Faulkner (2003).

1In debates about testimony, epistemologists have traditionally been divided into two groups: those who hold that we can trust other people in so far as we trust our own senses, that is, those who hold that trust is a kind of credulity without evidence (anti-reductivists);2 and those who hold that we ought to be very cautious and hence shouldn’t bestow our trust without appropriate evidence (reductivists).3

2In the first part of this paper, I will briefly sketch a general evidentialist position regarding trust, or the stance that epistemically responsible trust is a matter of evidence. In the second part, I will argue that the position taken by anti-reductivists is not necessarily an anti-evidentialist position. Furthermore, I will argue that the main difference between anti-reductivists and reductivists does not pertain to the question of evidence, but to epistemic agency. Finally, I will argue against anti-reductivism (an involuntarist version of evidentialism that presumes doxastic involuntarism concerning trust) in favour of agency evidentialism that assumes both a (weak) doxastic voluntarism concerning trust and the general framework of virtue epistemology.

1. Evidentialism about trust

  • 4 Such a broad determination of testimony can be found in Fricker’s words according to which testimon (...)

3We can begin with a rather uncontroversial general definition of testimony4:

  • 5 Lackey (2006b: 193).

‘T: S testifies that p by making an act of communication a if and only if (in part) in virtue of a’s communicable content, (1) S reasonably intends to convey the information that p, or (2) a is reasonably taken as conveying the information that p’.5

  • 6 Faulkner (2002).

4According to my understanding, accepting testimony is an act of trust. To trust another person is simply to treat her as a source of knowledge.6 Thus, my primary concern here are the questions of whether we should trust without evidence or not, and whether we should embrace communicable content as true without evidence or not.

  • 7 This moderate version of evidentialism concerning trust is also defended by Locke and Hume, who hol (...)
  • 8 Conee and Feldman (2004: 83).
  • 9 Adler (2002).

5Evidentialism is traditionally held to affirm that the strength of belief ought to be proportional to the strength of evidence.7 More recent proponents of the same stance offer the following definition: “Doxastic attitude D toward proposition p is epistemically justified for S at t if and only if having D toward p fits evidence S has at t.”8 Any doxastic attitude ought to be determined by evidence, since only evidence can ensure the claim to truth of the doxastic attitude. I will accordingly understand evidentialism concerning trust as the stance that epistemically justified acceptance of any testimony is a matter of evidence, wherein evidence is treated as a familiar kind of epistemic reason9: e is evidence for the acceptance of testimony p for the hearer H when e speaks in favour of the acceptance of testimony p.

6In short, evidentialism concerning trust, which I defend here, can be outlined in the following manner:

 

7E: Trust T to an informant I about proposition p is epistemically justified for S at t if and only if having T fits evidence S has at t.

2. Trusting, intellectual freedom and epistemic choice

  • 10 See more about (direct) doxastic voluntarism in Ginet (2001), Ryan (2003), Steup (2000, 2008, 2011) (...)

8Trust is something we do, not something that happens to us. There is a number of cases in which we, after deliberating over our evidence, decide to trust (or not to trust, or to suspend our trust) other people’s words.10 What is more, in everyday epistemic practice we habitually evaluate someone’s decision to bestow trust as silly and irrational, or like, or as commonsensical and rational, or like. Any situation of trust is thus characterized by the fact that the hearer is in an epistemically risky situation in which she has to make a decision – or a deliberate epistemic choice – about accepting an informant’s testimony. A hearer knows that in any testimonial situation she could be deceived and her choice could be wrong. Yet she decides to trust (or not) despite being entirely aware that her trust could be evaluated as wise, responsible or justified or as silly, irresponsible and unjustified.

  • 11 Sosa (2015).

9The fact that trusting other people is the object of approval or blame implies that an act of trust is somehow under our control – we use evaluative judgments about one’s trust to suggest that trust is a doxastic attitude which is in some degree freely formed or chosen. It would be inappropriate to genuinely blame a person who isn’t given the option of choosing an alternative solution. So trust is an epistemic decision to accept an informant’s testimony as true, and a hearer can make this decision in an epistemically responsible or irresponsible way. Epistemic decisions are a kind of epistemic agency. The crucial element of agency is the capacity to perform actions freely, by choice or ‘by endeavoring to perform them’. Such endeavoring is metaphysically distinct from the teleologically guided operation of an organ or a mechanism.11 Consequently, the evidentialism I defend here presumes: (i) doxastic voluntarism, or the existence of intellectual freedom in the sense that we have to be capable of certain intellectual choices or decisions, (ii) virtue epistemology, or the normative approach according to which the target of epistemic evaluation is an epistemic agent to whom we ascribe epistemic or intellectual virtues or vices (epistemic responsibility, epistemic conscientiousness or like.)

  • 12 Williams (1970), Alston (1989), Buckareff (2004, 2006).
  • 13 Feldman (2004: 17).
  • 14 For various approaches to the scope of voluntary control over doxastic attitudes, see Pojman (1985) (...)
  • 15 It ought to be stressed that I have omitted two important questions: (i) the extent of our voluntar (...)
  • 16 I rely on the tradition of Descartes, Locke and Kant, which has recently been invoked in accounts a (...)

10There are various positions which deny the thesis that doxastic attitudes can be compared with actions in terms of voluntariness and freedom – while actions can be under our voluntary control and can be understood as the objects of our choices, it is claimed that doxastic attitudes cannot be voluntarily caused or chosen.12 Moreover, it is worth noting that evidentialists like Feldman hold that there is no good reason to conclude that the evaluative judgments we make about other people’s doxastic attitudes necessary imply that a believer has control over her doxastic attitudes.13 However, it surpasses our task here to argue that doxastic attitudes are generally under our direct voluntary control, or that trust is a kind of full-blooded agency. While the problem of direct doxastic voluntarism is perhaps more challenging, I am referring to the less controversial stance that doxastic attitudes are in various ways indirectly manipulated and reflectively controlled.14 I will try to argue in favour of the weaker stance that the acceptance of testimony is a kind of agency where our control is strong enough to ensure the reason-responsiveness of our attitudes.15 Therefore, trust or the acceptance of other people’s testimony is understood here as a certain form of epistemic agency that is sufficiently under our control to ensure that we can be responsible for it.16 The previous articulation of evidentialism about trust (E) can be now extended in agency evidentialism (EA) in accordance to our assumption of (weak) doxastic voluntarism and virtue epistemology.

 

  • 17 According to moderate evidentialism, epistemically responsible trust should be understood as blamel (...)

11EA: Trust T to an informant I about proposition p is epistemically responsible choice for S at t if T fits evidence S has at t.17

 

  • 18 Baehr (2009).
  • 19 Closs (2015).

12Agency evidentialism relies on the stance that evidentialism should be extended beyond its restrictive initial outline, according to which epistemic justification is a mere function of the evidence an epistemic agent possesses at the moment of belief. Evidentialism requires intellectually virtuous agency18 and responsible evidential conduct19. For that very reason virtue epistemology proves to be the optimal normative framework for agency evientialism.

3. Nihilism and anti-reductivism

  • 20 It is assumed that an ordinary cognizer in ordinary epistemic circumstances does not have or/and ev (...)

13A crucial epistemological objection to evidentialism about trust (E) rests on the assumption that our evidence is principally insufficient to justify the acceptance of other people’s testimony.20 The most common conclusion derived from such objections is an anti-reductivist one: trusting can be epistemically justified regardless of the evidence. This anti-reductivist perspective has to be distinguished from nihilism. Although nihilism also hinges on the assumption about the principal insufficiency of evidential support for trust attributions, from this it derives a total denial of epistemically justified trusting. Consequently, epistemic nihilism is a position drawn from the Cartesian sceptical tradition, which rejects both the possibilities of justified trust and testimonial knowledge (justified testimonial beliefs). We cannot ever clearly and distinctly ascribe knowledge to the testifier because our evidential basis will always be lacking or fallible.

  • 21 Coady (1992), Goldman (1999).
  • 22 Reid (1983), Dummett (1993), Faulkner (2002).
  • 23 Dummett (1993: 420).

14Anti-reductivists are not nihilists. They do not claim that trust cannot be epistemically responsible. Instead, they start from the thesis that, if we want to ground our testimonial beliefs on evidence, we can only accept a miserably small amount of testimony – sufficient evidence is either principally unavailable to the hearer or evidential support is principally deficient due to circularity.21 They are, however, clearly aware of our epistemic dependence. They register the real epistemic circumstances in which, without the testimonies of others, we should have to confess to knowing pitifully little.22 Besides, they appeal to the phenomenology of trust by regularly noticing that, in the majority of situations, we automatically accept what other people tell us as true. For instance, Dummett writes: “Maybe it is simply in our nature to accept the assertions of others without, usually, any scrutiny or reflection.”23 Finally, they conclude that it is epistemically responsible to accept other people’s testimonies because we have an epistemic right to trust without evidence.

  • 24 Reid (2002: 237).

And if Nature had left the mind of the hearer in aequilibrio, without any inclination to the side of belief more to than of disbelief, we should take no man’s word until we had positive evidence that he spoke truth. His testimony would, in this case, have no more authority that his dreams; which may be true or false, but no man is disposed to believe them, on this account, that they were dreamed. [...] If it was not so, no proposition that is uttered in discourse would be believed, until it was examined and tried by reason; and most men would be unable to find reasons for believing the thousandth part of what is told them. Such distrust and incredulity would deprive us of the greatest benefits of society, and place us in a worse condition than that of savages.24

  • 25 Reid (1983), Plantinga (1994).
  • 26 Coady (1992), Adler (2002).
  • 27 Burge (1993).
  • 28 Dummett (1993).

15Various theoretical explanations of such an epistemic right have been offered: for instance, that there exist some basic epistemic principles inherent to our nature, such as the principles of credulity and veracity,25 or in the practice of communication,26 or in a process of belief-formation,27 or in social design28 or like.

4. Anti-reductivism and evidentialism

16However, a different tendency should also be detected in their reasoning. Initially, Reid himself wrote:

  • 29 Reid (2002: 237).
  • 30 Ivi: 238.

[...] It is evident that, in the matter of testimony, the balance of human judgment is by nature inclined to the side of belief; and turns to the side of itself, when there is nothing put into the opposite scale.29
‘And as, in many instances, Reason, even in her maturity, borrows aid from testimony, so in others she mutually gives aid to it, and strengthens its authority. For, as we find good reason to reject testimony in some cases, so in others we find good reason to rely upon it with perfect security, in our most important concerns.
30

  • 31 Coady (1992: 143).
  • 32 Ivi: 47.
  • 33 Graham (2000: 695).

17Reid’s adherents continue his reasoning in more explicit ways. For instance, C.A.J. Coady writes that “[…] the rational person does not believe just any and every thing he is told”31 and that “[…] the attitudes of critical appraisal and trust are not diametrically opposed […].”32 P. Graham similarly claims that he usually does not require evidence that someone is honest or reliable, but that he does need further evidence to anchor his reliance on the reports of people who otherwise seem suspicious or unreliable.33

  • 34 For instance, Coady defines testimony in the following manner: ‘S’s stating that p is evidence that (...)
  • 35 Moreover, R. Audi interprets Reid’s position in a moderate evidentialist manner. Our background bel (...)

18Despite some rather explicit claims about epistemically responsible ascriptions of trust supported by the right to trust without evidence, there is still room for alternative readings of this epistemic right. It seems inappropriate to interpret such an epistemic right as a license for gullibility or epistemic irresponsibility. Namely, such a radical anti-evidentialist reading of anti-reductivism – according to which epistemically responsible trust in any feasible situation is not grounded on any evidence at all – is definitely not what the proponents of anti-reductivism had intended. On the other hand, the anti-reductivist stance could be read in the following, more moderate manner: (i) we have an epistemic right to trust ‘without conclusive evidence’; (ii) we have an epistemic right to trust ‘without a posteriori evidence’ (appealing to an a priori justification of testimony in general); (iii) we have an epistemic right to trust ‘without local evidence’ about a particular testimony (appealing to global, but a posteriori justifications of testimony in general); (iv) we have an epistemic right to trust ‘without additional positive empirical evidence’ in a situation in which there is no cause for doubt or in which there are no undefeated defeater, or like. Some anti-reductionists appeal explicitly to some form of reasoning or evidence: testimony as such is evidence in favour of its acceptance,34 or declare that we require additional positive empirical evidence only in a situation where there are grounds for doubt.35

  • 36 It is, however, an extremely interesting question whether Reid’s anti-reductivism can be interprete (...)

19Anti-reductivism thus doesn’t necessarily imply non-evidentialism concerning trust or epistemically responsible trust without evidence. Moreover, it is worth noticing that ‘moderate’ interpretations of the ‘epistemic right to trust without evidence’ actually embrace a certain level of evidentially based trusting, which entails (perhaps rather moderately, but still) some form of evidentialism. Naturally, it would be sensible to object that boundaries between the moderate evidentialism assumed here (the stance that the degree of acceptance needs to be proportional to the degree of evidential support) and non-evidentialism (which claims that trust needn’t always be based on evidence, nor proportioned to the strength of the evidence) can be quite blurry. It goes without saying that the issue of whether a particular position counts as evidentialist or non-evidentialist will ultimately hinge on how evidentialism or non-evidentialism itself is construed, as well as on how responsibility governed by evidence is defined. However, perhaps the best way to make the distinction between moderate evidentialism and non-evidentialism pertains to whether an epistemic agent can be not only permitted – but ought to be obliged – to trust without evidence in certain situations. I consider it reasonable to conclude that the anti-reductivist ‘epistemic right to trust without evidence’ cannot be interpreted as the obligation to trust without evidence.36

20The crucial question here, however, would be: what is the substantive difference between a moderate interpretation of anti-reductivism, in which an epistemic right to trust doesn’t imply epistemic irresponsibility, and a moderate evidentialism like mine, wherein epistemically responsible trust is based on evidence.

5. Phenomenology of trust and doxastic involuntarism

21The epistemic practice of spontaneously or immediately accepting another person’s testimony is seen as a symptom of our epistemic right to trust without evidence. They assume that bestowing trust without deliberating over evidence is merely a psychological ‘inclination’ or a kind of inner psychological ‘disposition’ – we do not trust by deliberating about evidence but directly, immediately, momentarily and spontaneously.

  • 37 Dummett (1993: 419).

I go through no process of reasoning, however swift, to arrive at the conclusion that he has spoken aright: my understanding of his utterance and my acceptance of his assertions are one.37

22Or,

  • 38 Coady (1994: 143).

In our ordinary dealings with others we gather information without concern for inferring the acceptability of communications from premises about the honesty, reliability, probability, etc. of our communicants.38

23The alleged phenomenon of immediate acceptance attempts to show that we accept a testimony at the very moment we hear it, without any additional room for reasoning or deliberating over the evidence as to why we do it.

  • 39 Reid (1983).

24Moreover, some anti-reductivists have articulated a strong analogy in terms of directness between our trust in our senses and our trust in other people’s words. Thomas Reid, for instance, explicitly classified testimony as a primary source of knowledge and compared its epistemic status to perception: (i) testimonial beliefs, as well as perceptual, are ‘natural’ in the sense that they are formed by the natural features of the human constitution; (ii) ‘natural’ beliefs can be justified in the absence of any effective evidence that supports them. Anti-reductivists suggest that the human mind is not naturally inclined to trust on the basis of evidence.39 It seems that a spontaneous inclination to trust actually implies that trust based on deliberating about evidence is not natural.

25In an analogous context, Alston suggests a similar connection:

  • 40 Alston (1989: 91, 129).

When I see a car coming down the street, I am not capable of believing or disbelieving this at will, […] when I look out my window and see rain falling, water dropping off the leaves of trees… I form the belief that rain is falling willy-nilly. There is no way I can inhibit this belief.40

26The aforementioned phenomenal descriptions of trust suggest that trust – akin to perception – is not a kind of epistemic activity or agency, but a natural epistemic response to a ‘stimulus’ (such as, in this case, the words of an informant). So, it seems that ‘trusting without evidence’ or ‘without deliberating about evidence’ actually means ‘without intellectual agency or a decision based on evidence’. Since trust is dictated by our psychology and not by evidentially grounded epistemic agency, it seems plausible to interpret the anti-reductivist position in Alston’s manner: a phenomenology of trust suggests that it is not within the agent’s power or under our voluntary control. It could hence be suggested that ‘without evidence’ actually presumes the substantive thesis about involuntarism concerning trust. Consequently, moderate anti-reductionists do not claim that trust ought to be justified without evidence, but that accepting the testimony of others is not a kind of evidentially based epistemic agency.

27I would like to suggest that the substantive difference between anti-reductivist evidentialism and my interpretation of its lies in the stance about epistemic agency. While anti-reductivism is a certain ‘willy-nilly’ evidentialism or an involuntarist interpretation of evidentialism, wherein trust is not a matter of epistemic agency/decision/choice or our voluntary control over the evidence, my version of evidentialism is agency evidentialism, a stance which understands trust as a certain kind of epistemic agency over evidence. What is more, this kind of epistemic agency is a matter of epistemic evaluation in accordance of which we ascribe epistemic or intellectual responsibility to the hearer. The assumption that epistemic agents have voluntary control over their doxastic attitudes enables epistemic evaluations and the ascription of epistemic virtues or vices such as responsibility or irresponsibility.

6. Parasitical and paradigmatical situations

28It is suggested that the psychological reality or phenomenology of trust strongly supports the involunarist version of evidentialism, and opposes agency evidentialism. If I intend to preserve agency evidentialism, I now have to prove that this is not the case.

  • 41 Steup (2000).

29We first ought to, as has been announced above, more precisely define the notion of voluntary control over our trust. Let us say that we have voluntary control if and only if we can decide whether or not to trust by exerting our will, where will is understood as the faculty for making choices and decisions. In other words, I have voluntary control over my acceptance of someone’s testimony that p if and only if, should I decide not to accept testimony that p, I could deliberately reject testimony that p.41

30Anti-reductivists, when claiming that our trust is psychologically immediate, have to make the explicit claim that we do not decide – or choose – to accept or reject a particular testimony. However, this is simply not the case. It is obviously not a proper description of our epistemic practice to say that trust is forced, or that one cannot inhibit her trust in proportion to the evidence available to her. There are numerous situations wherein applying caution and embarking on a more detailed search for evidence is quite usual, or even the norm: science, politics, business, law, as well as in everyday situations in which we sell and buy, meet strangers, rent, talk about the achievements of our children, or like. Trust without any deliberation over evidence or an intentional search for evidence is simply not a general psychological phenomenon.

  • 42 As we previously stressed in this paper, Reid wrote that in many instances we need to find good rea (...)

31As I have mentioned above, even anti-reductivists themselves admit these phenomena. Graham explicitly writes that it is only in everyday situations that we can assume the reliability of testimony because participants in communication have shared aims, and do in fact rely upon each other and check up on each other with some degree of frequency. He stresses that we know that participants in communication sometimes do not ‘play by the rules’, or that speakers sometimes do not necessarily say what they believe is true. The practice of testimony or reporting can be locally unreliable, whereby deception is not incompatible with the practice of reporting. There are situations in which we simply do not, or cannot, believe what people say regardless of the subject matter or circumstances. Coady and Graham, but also Reid himself, stipulate that, asides from those situations wherein we instinctively accept an informant’s words without any additional evidence, there are situations and special circumstances in which such an epistemic right is defeated, or in which epistemically responsible trust must rely on further evidence and complex reasoning about an informant’s trustworthiness.42

  • 43 Burge (1993).

32Accordingly, ‘willy-nilly’ evidentialism simply cannot be an appropriate description of so-called special or ‘non-ordinary’ circumstances, even if we had named them as ‘parasitic’.43 In parasitical situations, our trust is based on complex reasoning, conscious deliberation about evidence, decisions and intentional acquisitions of further evidential grounds. So, should we want to be precise, the position of anti-reductionism has to be revised: epistemically responsible trust is a matter of virtuous deliberation over the evidence (and is therefore under the agent’s control) in parasitical situations, but not in ordinary or paradigmatical situations.

7. Doxastic voluntarism: Reflective control

  • 44 Asides from paradigmatical situations in which we ‘just believe’ there are paradigmatical situation (...)

33We ought to admit that, in opposition to parasitical situations, it is true that in everyday, ordinary or paradigmatical situations trust is not the result of reasoning or deliberation about evidence. More precisely, from the perspective of agency evidentialism, it should be admitted that we don’t exert our voluntary control over trust in these situations to the extent that we do in parasitical situations. At the same time, it needs to be emphasised that ascriptions of trust reflect our evidence both in paradigmatical and in parasitical situations. It would be inappropriate to claim that we trust arbitrarily, or that we sometimes accidentally refrain from trusting, or that we sometimes suspend our trust for no reason.44 Moreover, when compared with parasitical situations – where we are claimed to deliberate about evidence – we do not seem to make more mistakes in everyday situations. On the contrary, we seem to be very successful in paradigmatical situations where we, for instance, immediately trust strangers who give us instructions on finding a museum, airport clerks who inform us about our flight, or our daughters’ reports about their breakfast, and like. Such examples seem to force us to conclude that our trust in paradigmatical situations reflects our evidence (background beliefs) just as successfully as in parasitical situations.

34It seems that trust that reflects the subject’s evidence does not need to be the product of actual deliberation about this evidence. So, to be epistemically responsible, it is sufficient that trust adequately reflects the evidence available to the subject. Epistemically responsible acceptance of testimony that p is produced by an operation of a subject’s experience and additional background beliefs which provide them with a rational motivation for trust that p, even if they are not consciously aware of this operation. In other words, trusting can also be responsible in paradigmatical situations because it satisfies the decisive criterion – responsiveness to evidence.

35Responsiveness to evidence does not exclusively require the subject to have actual access to evidence or to consciously deliberate over the evidence, as it also demands that the subject is able to make judgments as to which testimonies she ought to accept. A hearer must be able to influence trust by reflecting on the quality of the evidence for and against the acceptance of testimony that p. Even when trusting is immediate or momentous, I would like to say that it is

  • 45 McDowell (1998: 434).

[...] an actualization of capacities of a kind, the conceptual, whose paradigmatic mode of actualization is in the exercise of freedom that judging is. This freedom, exemplified in responsible acts of judging, is essentially a matter of being answerable to criticism in the light of rationally relevant considerations. So the realm of freedom, at least the realm of freedom of judging, can be identified with the space of reasons.45

  • 46 Korsgaard (1996).
  • 47 Steup (2000).

36We are appealing to McDowell’s stance that there is a broader notion of free or voluntary agency, which applies to anything governed by reason or directed by evidence. Consequently, whenever one’s trust is responsive to evidence or governed by one’s evidence, we can say that it is under her reflective control. We have reflective control over our trust in paradigmatical situations because we can form a view about what we ought to do (so, we can discern whether our trust is epistemically responsible) and implement our judgement in our trust (regardless of whether we have actually done so in a particular case or not).46 In other words, we can say that a hearer H makes an intellectual decision to trust someone’s testimony that p if H can, after bestowing her trust, become introspectively aware of the fact as to why she had made this decision.47

37A mere change of testimonial context can serve as proof that we are able to reflect about the quality of our evidence, even if we hadn’t consciously deliberated over in an earlier situation. We possess the capacity to distance ourselves from evidence and to call it into question. I will, for instance, immediately accept my friend’s testimony that “her train arrives at 6.p.m” in an ordinary or paradigmatical situation without any substantial reflection about it. A few minutes later, however, I might find myself in the non-ordinary context of hearing about a crash on her line on the radio. I will then reflect on my evidence pro (on which rests my previous trust in her testimony) et contra regarding the same testimony, and eventually seek additional evidence about whether her train is really going to arrive at 6.p.m. This later ascription of trust is not a different process – in both cases trust is filtered by (mostly the same) evidence or background beliefs. It is obvious that both ascriptions of trust are under my reflective control. It is in virtue of this conclusion that, in our epistemic practice, we blame hearers for ‘blindness’ and ‘gullibility’, or approve their rationality in paradigmatical, as well as in parasitical situations. In short, the employment of responsibility by exercising reflective control exists in paradigmatical situations – marked by responsiveness to evidence – as well as in parasitical situations.

38It is no hindrance for agency evidentialism to acknowledge the phenomenology of trust. Our spontaneous and rapid acceptation of other people’s words does not prohibit epistemic agency and voluntary control. From the mere fact of psychological directness it does not follow that trust is not under an agent’s power – we can at most conclude that agents, in some (paradigmatical) situations, may not have conscious access to deliberation upon evidence. I have attempted to show that even in these (paradigmatical) situations, trust is under the agent’s reflective control, which is strong enough to treat our trust as something freely chosen.

39Therefore, (1) anti-reductionism or doxastic involuntarism concerning trust is neither a necessary nor a particularly reasonable explanation of the phenomenology of trust and (2) agency evidentialism is methodically superior to doxastic involuntarism insofar as it offers a unified theory about trust. While agency evidentialism considers trust a form of epistemic agency, in involuntarism the nature of trust is fragmented – although it is under our control in some (parasitical) situations, in others (paradigmatical) it is not. An additional problem for doxastitc involutarism concerning trust is that these situations can be only marginally different, and that the distinction between the parasitical and the paradigmatical is relative to the hearer.

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Note

2 Reid (1983), Coady (1992), Dummett (1993), Burge (1993).

3 Hume (1777), Adler (2002), Faulkner (2003).

4 Such a broad determination of testimony can be found in Fricker’s words according to which testimony is telling generally with “[…] no restrictions either on subject matter, or on the speaker’s epistemic relation to it” as well as in Audi’s words that testimony is saying something in an apparent attempt to convey information to someone else. Similarly, Sosa broadly define testimony as “[…] a statement of someone’s thoughts or beliefs, which they might direct to the world at large and to no one in particular”. (Fricker 1995: 396-7, Audi 1997: 405, Sosa 1991: 219).

5 Lackey (2006b: 193).

6 Faulkner (2002).

7 This moderate version of evidentialism concerning trust is also defended by Locke and Hume, who hold that the amount of evidence in one’s possession must be proportioned to one’s degree of trust. Or, more precisely, they allow that there are some circumstances in which subjects are rationally permitted to form beliefs in the absence of sufficient evidence.

8 Conee and Feldman (2004: 83).

9 Adler (2002).

10 See more about (direct) doxastic voluntarism in Ginet (2001), Ryan (2003), Steup (2000, 2008, 2011).

11 Sosa (2015).

12 Williams (1970), Alston (1989), Buckareff (2004, 2006).

13 Feldman (2004: 17).

14 For various approaches to the scope of voluntary control over doxastic attitudes, see Pojman (1985), Feldman (2001), Audi (2001, 2008).

15 It ought to be stressed that I have omitted two important questions: (i) the extent of our voluntary control over our responses to reasons for trusting, as well as the (ii) particular nature of what can be considered an appropriate reason (in the lights of which our virtuous intellectual character can be assessed). A more sophisticated discussion about these issues is, however, too comprehensive for my present purposes. See in Audi (2008).

16 I rely on the tradition of Descartes, Locke and Kant, which has recently been invoked in accounts about the voluntary control of our doxastic attitudes by Burge, Korsgaard and McDowell. I would like to stress that even Hume, who held, in contrast to the above-mentioned authors, that beliefs are not under our control, in the case of testimony argued in favour of reductivism, stating that justified trust has to be a product of critical assessment or reduction to less problematic sources like perception, memory and inference. That is, according to Hume, accepting the testimonies of others ought to be a matter of our cogitative nature, rather than sensitive. As can be seen latter, the reason-responsive nature of trust aims exactly to this idea of the cogitative nature of doxastic attitude.

17 According to moderate evidentialism, epistemically responsible trust should be understood as blameless trust rather than praiseworthy trust and epistemic responsibility ought to be understood as a concept about freedom from appropriate blame. See more in Booth and Peels (2010).

18 Baehr (2009).

19 Closs (2015).

20 It is assumed that an ordinary cognizer in ordinary epistemic circumstances does not have or/and even cannot ever attain a sufficient level of expertise or experience to evaluate the majority of testimonies (Coady 1981; Foley 1994).

21 Coady (1992), Goldman (1999).

22 Reid (1983), Dummett (1993), Faulkner (2002).

23 Dummett (1993: 420).

24 Reid (2002: 237).

25 Reid (1983), Plantinga (1994).

26 Coady (1992), Adler (2002).

27 Burge (1993).

28 Dummett (1993).

29 Reid (2002: 237).

30 Ivi: 238.

31 Coady (1992: 143).

32 Ivi: 47.

33 Graham (2000: 695).

34 For instance, Coady defines testimony in the following manner: ‘S’s stating that p is evidence that p and is offered as evidence that p.’ and S’s statement is directed to those who are in need of evidence on the matter. See in Coady 1992: 42. Also, Graham thinks that an informant’s testimony is offered as evidence that p and it is directed at those whom he believes to be in need of evidence on the matter. See Graham (1997: 227). See also in Lackey (2006a).

35 Moreover, R. Audi interprets Reid’s position in a moderate evidentialist manner. Our background beliefs play what is mainly a filtering role: they avert us from believing those testimonies that do not ‘pass’ because they, for instance, seem insincere. However, if no such difficulty strikes us, we may ‘just believe’ what is attested. These filtering beliefs are a trap door that shut only if triggered; their normal position is open, but they maintain a readiness to block what should not enter. See in Audi (1997). See also in Faulkner (2002).

36 It is, however, an extremely interesting question whether Reid’s anti-reductivism can be interpreted as a kind of reliabilist position: reliable aetiology justifies non-evidential acceptance or gives us an epistemic right to accept testimony without evidence. (I am thankful to G. Pappas for this suggestion). However, I do not think that this strategy of interpreting justified trust will prove fruitful. It presupposes causal theories of testimonial knowledge which maintain that the reliability of the procedure of transmission guarantees justified testimonial beliefs (or even knowledge) without any further evidence or evaluation of trustworthiness. Nevertheless, such theories imply that a hearer may be completely unaware of whether the testimony he decided to accept is worthy of his trust. K. Lehrer calls this objection the opacity objection because the epistemic merits of a belief may be opaque to the subject holding it, thereby rendering him completely epistemically irresponsible and, moreover, unable to justify or defend her own belief. See Lehrer (2006). In the case of trusting other people, it really means that we give a hearer the license to be gullible and believe everything that is said to him. Even in the case in which a speaker’s testimony is reliable, this cannot by itself make a decision to accept other people reports – rational or epistemically responsible. The further debate about whether such an anti-reliabilist approach assumes internalism (that is incompatible with reliabilism) or virtue epistemology (that is compatible with reliabilism) is interesting but beyond our present task.

37 Dummett (1993: 419).

38 Coady (1994: 143).

39 Reid (1983).

40 Alston (1989: 91, 129).

41 Steup (2000).

42 As we previously stressed in this paper, Reid wrote that in many instances we need to find good reason to reject testimony as well as to rely upon it. Reid (2002). Similarly, Coady wrote about the necessity of critical assessment of a speaker in some situations. Coday (1992). Finally, Goldman stresses the same point: “The usual route to true belief, of course, is to obtain some kind of evidence that points to the true proposition and away from rivals. […] The rationale for getting such evidence is to get true belief.” Goldman (2002: 62).

43 Burge (1993).

44 Asides from paradigmatical situations in which we ‘just believe’ there are paradigmatical situations in which we ‘just don’t believe’ or a situation in which we ‘just suspend our judgment about other people words’. The question is what prevents me trusting in these situations, as well as why I trust others. I immediately accept the words of my daughter that she eats cereal for breakfast as credible. If she were to tell me that she chooses to eat pancakes rather than cereal, I would not accept her testimony as credible in an equally spontaneous or psychologically immediate way as I would accept the first case. These two situations are psychologically or phenomenally the same: I didn’t consciously list the evidence pro et contra. Under the assumption that we ‘just believe’ other people words without any evidence in paradigmatical situations, it would be completely mysterious as to why we regularly trust in some situations and not others, and trust some people and not others.

45 McDowell (1998: 434).

46 Korsgaard (1996).

47 Steup (2000).

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Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Snježana Prijić-Samaržija, « Agency Evidentialism: Trust and Doxastic Voluntarism », Rivista di estetica, 69 | 2018, 68-84.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Snježana Prijić-Samaržija, « Agency Evidentialism: Trust and Doxastic Voluntarism », Rivista di estetica [Online], 69 | 2018, online dal 01 mars 2019, consultato il 30 octobre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/3701 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/estetica.3701

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Autore

Snježana Prijić-Samaržija

University of Rijeka, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, prijic[at]uniri.hr

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