A mass transmitted report is one that is narrated by so many independent witnesses, that it is nomically impossible for them to have all conspired to fabricate it. For this reason, mass transmitted reports are decisively reliable. The testimony of each one of those witnesses is however, indecisive and singular. For their narrations are only mass transmitted when taken collectively. Some sophists use this to attack mass transmission as a way of knowledge. They argue that each singular report is indecisively reliable, and so any collection of said reports cannot lead one to certainty.
Sa’d Al-Deen Al-Taftazani relays the above argument and responds to it in his commentary on Al-Nasafia:
|And if it is said: “the testimony of each narrator [narrating a mass transmitted report] does not yield certainty, and uncertainty upon uncertainty cannot yield certainty. Furthermore, it is possible for each individual narrator to have lied, and this entails that it be possible for all the narrators to have collectively lied. After all, the whole is nothing but a collection of those unreliable parts.”
We respond: it is possible for a collection as a whole to be characterized with a quality that each of its parts lacks. Like the strength of a rope, even though each of the strings it is comprised of are weak.
– Al-Taftazani, Sharh Al-‘Aqa’id Al-Nasafia (pg. 19)
In summary: the sophist above has fallen into the fallacy of composition. Since it is possible for the collection as a whole, to have a quality that each of its parts lack. Or for each of the parts to have a quality that the whole lacks.
For example: the small parts making up a large body may be light, even when the entire body is heavy. Or the example Al-Taftazani offers above, comparing the strength of a rope to the strength of each of the strings that it is made up of.
Likewise, the indecisiveness of each singular testimony supporting the mass transmitted report, does not entail that the entire collection be indecisive. And we axiomatically know that mass transmission leads to certainty; since we find ourselves certain of the existence of foreign countries that we have not visited, and certain of the occurrence of widely reported historical events like World War I, and all of this is by mass transmission.