Trusting Teachers Within Reason: Education and the Epistemology of Testimony

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The epistemological concept of “testimony” refers to the social practice of acquiring beliefs and knowledge from what others tell us. Disparaged by philosophers as incompatible with rational autonomy and by educationalists as a passive form of learning, it is nevertheless a source we rely on for formative learning as children and throughout our lives. Both traditionalist and progressivist educationalists have underestimated the cognitive achievement involved in comprehending and learning from testimonial speech acts and also the role such speech acts play in argumentation. Since the Enlightenment debates about testimony have distinguished between reductionist and non-reductionist justifications for accepting beliefs from testimony. These, like the more recent trust-based theories of testimony, tend to conflate different testimonial speech acts, and fail to reconcile a notion of trust in epistemic authority with a convincing account of rational autonomy. The thesis confronts epistemological conclusions concerning rational trust in the epistemic authority of others with Austinian pragmatics and Bakhtinian dialogism to produce an account of responsible pedagogy as valuing both the repertoire of informative speech and the virtues and commitments inherent in producing and responding with epistemic and linguistic discrimination. Dialogistic and sociocultural theories of pedagogy need to be informed by a socialized epistemology that: a) is responsive to the pragmatics of language, b) incorporates a notion of autonomy founded on self-trust and integrity, c) emphasizes the role of intellectual conscientiousness and virtue in epistemic and linguistic achievements. Theories of dialogic pedagogy should recognize that valuing discussion and “student voice” requires us to acknowledge the importance, as a prerequisite of classroom dialogue, of teachers responding sensitively to students as knowers and testifiers with complex rational commitments of their own.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University College London
  • Derry, Jan , Supervisor, External person
Award date9 Mar 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 9 Mar 2016


  • testimony
  • education
  • dialogical pedagogy
  • epistemology
  • epistemic justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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