Wikipedia and the Epistemology of Testimony


In “Group Testimony” (2007) I argued that the testimony of a group cannot be understood (or at least cannot always be understood) in a summative fashion; as the testimony of some or all of the group members. In some cases, it is the group itself that testifies. I also argued that one could extend standard reductionist accounts of the justification of testimonial belief to the case of testimonial belief formed on the basis of group testimony. In this paper, I explore the issue of group testimony in greater detail by focusing on one putative source of testimony, that of Wikipedia. My aim is to the answer the following questions: Is Wikipedia a source of testimony? And if so, what is the nature of that source? Are we to understand Wikipedia entries as a collection of testimonial statements made by individuals, some subset of individuals, or is Wikipedia itself (the organization or the Wikipedia community) the entity that testifies? If Wikipedia itself is a source of testimony, what resources do we have for assessing the trustworthiness of such an unusual epistemic source? In answering these questions I hope to further elucidate the nature of collective epistemic agency (Tollefsen 2006), of which group testimony is a paradigm example. When a mans Discourse begineth…at some saying of another, of whose ability to know the truth, and of whose honesty in not deceiving, he doubteth not; and then the Discourse is not so much concerning the Thing, as the Person; and the Resolution is called Beleefe, and Faith: Faith in the man. (1651/1991, Ch. 7; p. 48). © 2009, Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved.

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