Suggested correction: These are possible avenues for dealing with the subject and not the standard copy expected by the proofreaders!
“If I could assure myself that a witness saw well, and that he wanted to tell me the truth, his testimony for me would become infallible: it is only in proportion to the degrees of this double assurance that my persuasion believes. ; it will never rise to a full demonstration, as long as the testimony is unique, and that I will consider the witness in particular because whatever knowledge I have of the human heart, I will never know it perfectly enough to guess from it. the various caprices, and all the mysterious springs which make it move. But what I would look for in vain in a testimony, I find it in the concurrence of several testimonies, because humanity is painted there; I can, in consequence of the laws that minds follow, affirm that the single truth has been able to bring together so many people, whose interests are so diverse, and whose passions are so opposed. Error has different forms, according to the frame of mind of men, according to the prejudices of religion and education in which they are nourished: if therefore I see them, in spite of this prodigious variety of prejudices which differentiate nations so strongly, unite in the deposition of the same fact, I must in no way doubt its reality. The more you prove to me that the passions which govern men are bizarre, capricious, and unreasonable, the more eloquent you will be in exaggerating for me the multiplicity of errors that so many different prejudices give rise to, and the more you will confirm me, to your great astonishment, in the persuasion in which I am, that only the truth can make so many men of an opposite character speak in the same way.
Denis Diderot, Encyclopedia (1751-1772)
Answers to Option 1 Questions
A) Elements of analysis
1) What does “double insurance” mean? How does it increase persuasion?
“Double Insurance” of which Diderot speaks designates the two conditions which give credit to a testimony. First, the more information I have that attests that the witness saw the facts he is talking about, the more I think he is telling the truth. For example, I know he was present on the scene thanks to a surveillance video. Then, the second condition concerns the conviction that he is not trying to deceive me. In other words, if he has no reason or interest to lie to me, it increases the truth value of his testimony. The better these conditions are fulfilled, the more the persuasion that his narrative operates on me increases.
2) Why is one testimony not enough to establish the truth?
A single testimony is not enough to establish the truth because the assessment of a fact is necessarily subjective. Everyone perceives it according to their mood at the time, their habits of thought, their relationship to the facts in question. For example, I would not describe an attack in the same way if I know the victim than if I do not know him. Now, adds Diderot, since we cannot have access to the “human heart […] to guess its various caprices, and all the mysterious springs that make it move.it is not possible to enter into the mind of the witness to separate what, in his testimony, is due to his own subjectivity (his degree of emotivity, for example) from what is objective (the share of story that is not influenced in any way, for example by proximity to the victim).
3) Why does error take different forms?
“Error has different forms, according to the turn of mind of men”, writes Diderot. It then indicates the role played by “the prejudices of religion and education in which they are nourished”. These prejudices are responsible for the formation of these “mind tricks”, which designate the different ways of thinking, feeling and imagining varying according to social groups but also between individuals belonging to the same group or sharing the same culture. More specifically, our habits of thinking and perception are influenced by the culture we belong to, which includes the mother tongue and a number of beliefs. These habits parasitize and often distort our relationship to reality, in the sense that we perceive it and judge it from a particular point of view. It is as if we had glasses through which we perceived reality from a certain angle without being aware of it.
4) Explain “only the truth can make so many men of opposite character speak alike”
This sentence means that if many different men, even opposed because of their belonging to very dissimilar cultures, say the same thing about a fact, it cannot be linked to common prejudices since, precisely, they do not don’t have the same. If they say the same thing, then they have something in common which can only be… the truth. Earlier in the text, a sentence expresses the idea well: “What I would look for in vain in a testimony, I find it in the combination of several testimonies, because humanity is painted there; I can, in consequence of the laws that minds follow, affirm that the single truth has been able to bring together so many people, whose interests are so diverse, and whose passions are so opposed. »
B) Summary elements
1) What is the question the author is trying to answer here?
The author tries to know under what conditions one can consider that a testimony has a value of truth, knowing that a testimony constitutes indirect knowledge for the one who receives it, which casts doubt on its reliability. and its credibility.
2) Identify the different moments of the argument
First, the author explains under what conditions a testimony is credible. Then, he notes that these conditions are difficult to meet when the testimony is unique. This is why, in a third step, he mentions the need to cross-check testimonies to neutralize the errors produced by subjectivity. Finally, he justifies his thesis with the argument that the fact that very different men say the same thing cannot be the product of coincidence and constitutes evidence in favor of the truth of their testimony..
3) Based on the previous elements, identify the main idea of the text
According to Diderot, one can bring credit and a value of truth when the testimonies coming from different sources are convergent, that is to say that they resemble each other. The justification is as follows: men are, originally, so different that, when they say the same thing, it cannot be the result of coincidence. It is interesting to note that Diderot uses these differences between subjectivities to make an argument in favor of the possibility of obtaining the truth by testimonies. Whereas initially, we might think that differences in viewpoints, biases, and other subjective factors would prevent us from ever valuing what we learn through testimony.
1) What prevents us from trusting a witness?
(See also the elements given above) A witness perceives or understands according to his own subjectivity, which prevents him from being perfectly objective, neutral and impartial. In particular, he may have an interest in telling things in a way that suits him. More generally, no one being omniscient, our appreciation, whether sensitive or intellectual, depends on a particular point of view, which, by definition, prevents us from being aware of all the dimensions or aspects of a situation at a time.
2) Are consistent testimonies sufficient to establish the truth?
Consistent testimonies contribute to establishing the truth but are not sufficient. Experience shows that many people can be wrong. Witnesses can also influence each other. Just because an opinion is overwhelmingly shared doesn’t mean it’s true. The most telling examples come from criminal cases: it is not because several witnesses saw a man flee after hearing a gunshot that he was the author. Admittedly, the man in question becomes a suspect, but to really charge him, it will be necessary to try to gather objective evidence such as, for example, the presence of his DNA on the murder weapon if it is found. It is on this condition that the testimonies concerning his presence will take on real value in determining the truth.