Legal Evidence and Knowledge

In Clayton Littlejohn & Maria Lasonen Aarnio (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Evidence (forthcoming)
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Abstract
This essay is an accessible introduction to the proof paradox in legal epistemology. In 1902 the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine filed an influential legal verdict. The judge claimed that in order to find a defendant culpable, the plaintiff “must adduce evidence other than a majority of chances”. The judge thereby claimed that bare statistical evidence does not suffice for legal proof. In this essay I first motivate the claim that bare statistical evidence does not suffice for legal proof. I then introduce and motivate a knowledge-centred explanation of this fact. The knowledge-centred explanation rests on two premises. The first is that legal proof requires knowledge of culpability. The second is that one cannot attain knowledge that p from bare statistical evidence that p. To motivate the second premise, I suggest that beliefs based on bare statistical evidence fail to be safe—they could easily be wrong—and bare statistical evidence cannot eliminate relevant alternatives. I then cast doubt on the first premise; I argue that legal proof does not require knowledge. I thereby dispute the knowledge-centred explanation of the inadequacy of bare statistical evidence for legal proof. Instead of appealing to the nature of knowledge, I suggest we should seek a more direct explanation by appealing to those more foundational epistemic properties, such as safety or eliminating relevant alternatives.
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