Anonymity and Testimonial Warrant
By: David Matheson
Membership in a highly networked society like our own has its privileges. It also has its responsibilities. Many of these are of course moral in nature, and evaluative discussions about the networked society frequently involve the moral voice. In this paper I speak in the epistemological voice. My broad concern is with the individual's place in a networked society from the point of view of the social acquisition and transmission of warranted belief -- that is, the sort of belief that, if true, amounts to knowledge. More specifically, I discuss a form of epistemic responsibility wrapped up with the phenomenon testimony -- something of crucial importance for the proper functioning of any networked society.
I begin by laying out two main epistemological approaches to testimony as a source of warranted belief: reductionism and antireductionism. Reductionism about testimony places certain demands on the recipient of testimony that antireductionism does not. Reductionism also, I argue, places certain demands on the testifier that antireductionism does not: the two approaches have different implications when it comes a testifier's responsibility to identify herself, and hence shed her anonymity. The worry that emerges is that, given the difficulty of deciding between these two approaches, the current state of affairs in epistemology has little to offer by way of secure advice on the sorts of anonymity constraints a networked society can place on its testifiers. This worry can be mitigated to some extent, I further argue, upon recognition of the fact that the two approaches stand on common ground when it comes to cases of known testimonial conflict: they both imply that when an agent's testimony finds known competition from that of other agents, the agent is epistemically constrained to shed her anonymity in important respects.
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