The Evidence of Testimony -- By: Enoch Pond
BSac 102:406 (Apr 45) p. 179
The Evidence of Testimony
The evidence of testimony is that species of evidence which is derived, not from intuition, or reflection, or originally from the senses, but from the communications of others. A moment’s consideration will satisfy every reader as to the vast importance of this species of evidence. Our own personal observation is circumscribed within narrow limits. Few comparatively are the important facts with which we become acquainted in this way. Almost all our knowledge—those branches of it especially on which we set the highest value, are the result of testimony.
It is testimony, not personal observation, which opens to us the lights of history, and makes us acquainted with what has been transacted in other times, and in distant portions of the globe.
Our geographical knowledge is almost all of it acquired in the same way. We have not personally traversed the surface of the earth, to observe its mountains, its rivers, its islands, plains, and seas; and what we know of it, for the most part, we received from others.
The same must be said of by far the greater part of our philosophical knowledge. How few have actually searched out and demonstrated the truth of those propositions, which are laid down in our books of natural science! We satisfy ourselves as to the competency and accuracy of those who have investigated these subjects, and take their conclusions upon trust.
Indeed, most of the important business of life—of professional life, and of common life—proceeds upon the evidence of testimony. That system of religion which the Christian minister is called upon to inculcate and to enforce, rests very
BSac 102:406 (Apr 45) p. 180
materially on testimony. A large proportion of the labor of the jurist consists in weighing and canvassing testimony, and in framing his decisions according to it. The merchant freights his ships, and sends them across the ocean to lands he never saw, and of which he has no knowledge, but from testimony. In short,—all men act, habitually, more or less on this species of evidence; and they feel as secure in acting on it, as they do on the evidence of their senses.
It has been urged by Hume and others, that our reliance on testimony is wholly the result of experience. We hear those around us, for the most part, speaking the truth and we learn, at length, to believe them and confide in them. But this, obviously, is an inadequate view of the subject. We do not learn to believe testimony in the manner here described. Were this the case, children and persons of little experience would believe almost nothing. Whereas, in fact, they believe almost everything. They are proverbially cre...
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