The Embedded Epistemologist: Dispatches from the Legal Front

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In ordinary circumstances, we can assess the worth of evidence well enough without benefit of any theory; but when evidence is especially complex, ambiguous, or emotionally disturbing-as it often is in legal contexts-epistemological theory may be helpful. A legal fact-finder is asked to determine whether the proposition that the defendant is guilty, or is liable, is established to the required degree of proof by the [admissible] evidence presented; i.e., to make an epistemological appraisal. The foundherentist theory developed in Evidence and Inquiry can help us understand what this means; and reveals that degrees of proof cannot be construed as mathematical probabilities: a point illustrated by comparing the advantages of a foundherentist analysis with the disadvantages of probabilistic analyses of the evidence in the Sacco and Vanzetti case (1921), and of the role of the statistical evidence in Collins (1968).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)206-235
Number of pages30
JournalRatio Juris
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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