- SH 5617
"Serving Two Masters: Ethics, Epistemology, and Taking People at their Word"
ABSTRACT: Taking another at her word is both epistemically and ethically significant – one acquires a new belief through establishing a unique sort of relation to another person. This makes the form of thinking involved when we make up our minds to take another’s word a little hard to understand. How can epistemic and ethical considerations both be brought to bear in answering one and the same question i.e. whether to believe a word-giver? Focusing on an extreme example of taking another’s word in the teeth of one’s own evidence originally due to Judith Baker, I argue that the problems in this area run deep. I first reconstruct two attempts to deal with Baker’s example, due to Richard Holton and Pamela Hieronymni, and argue that neither is successful. I diagnose the difficulty as rooted in our foundational ideas about what separates the theoretical from the practical. Finally, I gesture towards my own way of understanding how we can choose to take another’s word even in the teeth of our own evidence. My proposal emphasizes the distinctive kind of vulnerability we incur whenever we take another’s word, and focusses on the posture we must be able to adopt and maintain towards our own vulnerability. This is especially so in cases Baker’s, where believing another person is both ethically important and inherently risky.