Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Assault This Revised Definition of Evidence

Please assault the following revised definition of evidence in contemporary American trials:
Except when the term “evidence” is manipulated by the law -- e.g, when a matter generally considered evidence is nevertheless called "not evidence" -- to achieve specific instrumental or policy ends, the term “evidence” in American law generally refers to any matter that may increase knowledge about states of the world whenever the knowledge that may be found in such matter either is not available or is not readily available to the ordinary knowledge and reason of triers of fact; but societal beliefs about the likely knowledge-value of a possible source of knowledge about the world work as a drag or as a draft on the legal characterization of a possible source of knowledge as evidence or non-evidence.
  • Illustration of the hedge in the last sentence of the above definition: if a large majority of literate persons with a college degree believe that a possible source of knowledge almost certainly has no value because they believe that the knowledge-value of that possible source of knowledge rests on propositions, principles, and methods that are almost certainly invalid, the chances decrease that a legal decision maker (such as a trial judge) will characterize such a possible source of knowledge as "evidence." This sort of social influence also works in reverse. For example, if a large fraction of the same social sector -- literate people with college degrees -- strongly believes that some possible source has great knowledge-value for the kind of question at hand, the chances that a legal decision maker will characterize that possible source as "evidence" are enhanced.
  • In saying what I say immediately above, I am not saying that people who are not literate or who don't have college degrees don't know nuttin'. I don't believe that's true!
  • I am suggesting that the epistemic views of legal actors such as judges are likely to be affected and predicted by the epistemic beliefs and attitudes of some sectors of society more than by the beliefs etc. of other sectors of society.
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