2

The title already expresses the question perfectly well, so I don't see much point in complicating the question further, beyond including a few thought-provoking examples below:

  • Example 1: The Varginha UFO incident, where three Brazilian girls witnessed an alien-like creature (source 1, source 2). Are these Brazilian girls, who (purportedly) witnessed this creature, justified in believing they witnessed an alien-like creature based on their direct personal experience? If they are, would another random person X be justified in believing the girls witnessed an alien-like creature based on their testimony?

  • Example 2: Purported cases of miracles (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). If a person personally experiences a profoundly physicalism-defying extraordinary experience (i.e., a miracle), would they be justified in believing that they have experienced/witnessed a miracle? If they are, would another random person X be justified in believing in miracles based on their testimony?

  • Example 3: Bigfoot sightings. If a person witnesses a huge unknown beast in the midst of a forest, which makes a lot of noise and then climbs up a tree and disappears, and it turns out that the beast looked a lot like what people used to describe as Bigfoot, would such a person be justified in believing in Bigfoot? If they are, would another random person X be justified in believing in Bigfoot based on their testimony?

  • Example 4: The experience of the sense of sight (looking through one's eyes, the thing you are presumably doing right now as you look at your screen). If a person personally experiences the sense of sight through their eyes, would they be justified in believing that they are having visual experiences of external objects? If they are, would another random person X who is blind from birth be justified in believing in the existence of the sense of sight based on their testimony?

4
  • 5
    Can B be justified? Yes, if A is particularly expertly on the subject and trustworthy. But typically no, justification does not transfer. Especially if "personal experience" is esoteric and not independently confirmable. There is a strong default bias against personal testimony due to its general unreliability, which has to be overcome by some weighty specific factors in its favor.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 14 at 22:53
  • 4
    Independent verification is always a good idea.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Apr 14 at 23:13
  • 1
    "Seeing, see they not, hearing they hear not, neither do they understand."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Apr 14 at 23:16
  • 1
    B has to account for additional sources of falsehood than A has. A has to account, for example, for empirical and interpretational aspects, while B has to account additionaly for other reasons testimony can fail (eg lying, different senses meant, ..). Nevertheless an amount of justification can be there.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Apr 16 at 7:55

3 Answers 3

6

Only if one treats A's testimony about X as credible and reliable.

If A is not credible (e.g. they're an embellisher or liar), then what they say about X will not have much weight as to the truth of X.

Likewise if A is not reliable (e.g. they're talking about something they didn't have good perception of, or is in the distant past), then what they say about X will also not have much weight as to the truth of X.

It is also important to separate what A is actually able to testify about (their perceptions as they recall them) from their opinions about what real-world phenomenon caused those perceptions. The proposition that A saw something blurry in the sky is far removed from the proposition that there was an alien-piloted craft in the sky.

3
  • Under what conditions would you consider a witness reliable?
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 14 at 21:40
  • @Mark That is a normative question with regards to one's notion of evidentialism.
    – J D
    Commented Apr 15 at 15:50
  • 2
    @Mark That's a function of both one's theory of evidence and the context of the testimony. A well thought-out position on testimony is the Daubert standard, but obviously given that it is from the US legal community, it is crafted with those purposes in mind. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daubert_standard
    – J D
    Commented Apr 15 at 15:52
2

Very interesting question. First of all, believing has two connotations. 1. Believing that what a person says is true (honest) and 2. Believing that what a person says is valid or may have another explanation.

Generally, people interpret reality, based on their cultural environment and their belief systems. A non-ordinary reality phenomenon, may be interpreted as an alien species act, as a devine intervention or as a mental malfunction. Should I believe the interpretation of a witness?

Since the interpretations may vary, by believing (a priori) may result in contradiction. So the general answer to your question is NO.

I personally have a disposition towards believing that what a person says is true (from his/hers perspective), but try to read along the lines for making the interpretation.

And, as an old saying says : wherever there is smoke, there is a fire.

The most characteristic example of this is the Miracle of Fátima where 30.000 (thousand) people witnessed a miracle of Virgin Mary about 100 years ago. I am sure that if the same event happened today, they would have seen aliens, and 2.500 years ago, God Zeus etc.

7
  • So blind-from-birth individuals are not justified in believing in the existence of the sense of sight?
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 14 at 20:45
  • 1
    @Mark, "the existence of the sense" is an abstraction. If someone sees something, I believe he saw something, what I doubt is his specific interpretation of what he saw. Commented Apr 14 at 20:52
  • When would you not doubt their interpretation?
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 14 at 21:39
  • 1
    @Mark, 1. Have a similar personal experience, 2. Do not have a better explanation. Commented Apr 14 at 21:48
  • 1
    "What is it like to be a bat?' it must be like something. Do we have a good insight? No.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Apr 14 at 23:20
2

I think, when it comes to very mundane claims, it makes total sense, but there are other types of claims where it makes less sense.

"I saw a seagull on the roof" - if some guy tells you this, he's probably telling the truth and you can probably trust that.

But I don't think this was asked about mundane claims. I think this was asked in regards to religious experiences, miracles and so forth. The problem with that is two fold:

First, you should of course be more skeptical of claims of miracles than of seagulls being on roofs. We live in a world where seagulls are clearly on roofs all the time. We don't live in a world where clearly miracles are happening all the time (probably some would find that debatable).

Second, you should be more skeptical of testimonial claims where there's equal testimony in the opposite direction. Some percent of religious testimony in the world is for this particular religion, and some percent of religious testimony in the world is for some completely other religion, and if both religions are mutually exclusive, you have a problem.

Let's go back to the seagull. If one guy tells you he saw a seagull, probably believe him. But if one guy says a seagull landed on the roof, and another guy said it wasn't a seagull, it was clearly more like a crow or raven, and another guy says it was an albatross, and another guy said he's been watching the roof the whole time and no bird landed on it... now trusting the seagull guy seems much less obviously a good choice. Even if you know and trust the seagull guy, that doesn't mean he's always seeing and interpreting events clearly.

10
  • How would this answer handle Example 1, where the three girls were in agreement with each other about what they saw? Or Example 4, which is not about miracles?
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 15 at 10:15
  • Also the consequences matter. Seeing a bird is unlikely to make much difference in your life, unless it was your escaped bird, or you are starving and want to catch it. In some cases, you are more willing to give some credence if you are desperate, because the alternative is worse, and maybe you have nothing better to do.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Apr 15 at 10:50
  • @Mark I think extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Three girls have, as a group, lied about things before - if three girls told me they all saw a space craft, I would chuckle and move along.
    – TKoL
    Commented Apr 15 at 11:51
  • Personal visions are comparable to dreams, I think. "I had a vision of such and such" means the same to me as "I just had the most amazing dream!" Interesting, perhaps, but not something for me to place literal beliefs about our shared universe on
    – TKoL
    Commented Apr 15 at 11:52
  • @TKoL Oh, I think you completely misunderstood Example 4. I meant vision as in eyesight, the thing you are presumably doing right now as you look at your screen (unless you are blind, sorry if you are).
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 15 at 12:19

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .