Tuesday, October 04, 2011


I was teaching a philosophy class as a graduate student when I heard that O.J. Simpson had been acquitted. The students and I spent the entire session—when we were “supposed” to be going over readings on the mind-body problem—talking epistemology: How could anyone know what had happened the night of the killings? Was there really any good reason to conclude that he was innocent? Was it true that, “If the glove don’t, fit you must acquit?”

Most of the class concluded that the evidence in support of his guilt was overwhelming, that the standard of “reasonable doubt” hadn’t been attained. (Oddly, most of them also had a notoriously relativistic conception of truth, something to effect of “what’s true for me is true for me; what’s true for you is true for you,” but that seemed to go out the window when people’s lives were at stake.)

Yesterday, when the news of Amanda Knox’s acquittal came over the internetz, I was at my desk, preparing to teach my own Intro to Philosophy class, but in contrast to the O.J. verdict, I wasn’t immediately compelled to throw out my planned lesson in favor of discussing this ruling.

Does this suggest that it’s somehow more intriguing from the point of view of epistemology when apparently guilty people are found to be innocent than when allegedly guilty individuals are ruled innocent? Is the former somehow stranger to our sense of truth than the latter?

Maybe there’s one of those sociobiological explanations in play here: our hunter-gatherer ancestors, for instance, would have been more interested in bad guys getting way with shit than good guys being unfairly punished. Creatures who failed at the latter would have less of a likelihood of passing on their genes than those who failed at the former. So, maybe we’re hard-wired in this way.

I usually resist such explanations, but I dunno. One thing I’m sure of, though: the whole sorry story is a tragedy.


Blogger Deb's Lunch said...

When I heard about OJ, I was in a car with a group of Pleasant Co. employees - my fellow book designers and picture researchers - we were going to meet with a woman who had written a book about 18th and 19th century clothing, that would provide background for us developing the Company's historical dolls & books. The British-born art director said that she thought OJ was definitely guilty but there was no way he could've gotten a fair trial in the U.S. - and we all pretty much agreed.

8:54 AM  

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