Testimony and illusion

Barber, A. (2006). Testimony and illusion. Croatian Journal of Philosophy, 6(3) pp. 401–429.

URL: https://www.pdcnet.org/croatjphil/content/croatjph...


This paper considers a form of scepticism according to which sentences, along with other linguistic entities such as verbs and phonemes, etc., are never realized. If, whenever a conversational participant produces some noise or other, they and all other participants assume that a specific sentence has been realized (or, more colloquially, spoken), communication will be fluent whether or not the shared assumption is correct. That communication takes place is therefore, one might think, no ground for assuming that sentences are realized during a typical conversation. I reject both this 'folie-à-deux' view and the arguments for it due to Georges Rey. I do so by drawing on Gilbert Harman's no-false-lemmas principle. Since testimony is a form of knowledge and, according to the principle, knowledge cannot depend essentially on false assumptions, testimony is incompatible with the claim that sentence realization is but an illusion. Much of the paper is given over to defending this appeal to the no-false-lemmas principle. After all, a more attractive option might seem to be to infer instead that the principle is itself falsified by the folie-à-deux view.

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