On the Possibility of Knowledge through Unsafe Testimony

B. J.C. Madison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


If knowledge requires safety, then one might think that when the epistemic source of knowledge is testimony, that testimony must itself be safe. Otherwise, will not the lack of safety transfer from testimony to hearer, such that the hearer will lack knowledge? Resisting this natural line of reasoning, Sanford Goldberg argues that testimonial knowledge through unsafe testimony is possible on the basis of two cases. Jennifer Lackey and Charlie Pelling criticize Goldberg’s examples. But Pelling goes on to provide his own example that attempts to show that Goldberg’s thesis is true: one can gain safe testimonial belief from unsafe testimony. If any of these counterexamples were correct, they would undermine the main reason to think that knowledge based on unsafe testimony is impossible. My aim in this paper is to critically assess these arguments, and to consider the possibility of knowledge through unsafe testimony. Drawing a general moral from the analysis of these cases, I shall contend that it is impossible to acquire safe belief solely on the basis of unsafe testimony. If so, then testimonial knowledge based solely on unsafe testimony is impossible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-526
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Epistemology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2 2020


  • Knowledge
  • safety
  • testimony

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • General Social Sciences


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