“Probabilistic Knowledge and Legal Proof” Sarah Moss (Univ. of Michigan)

October 27, 2017 @ 3:30 pm – 5:30 pm
NYU Philosophy Dept. rm 202
5 Washington Pl
New York, NY 10003

Abstract: Traditional theories of knowledge often focus on the epistemic status of full beliefs. In Probabilistic Knowledge (forthcoming), I argue that like full beliefs, credences and other probabilistic beliefs can constitute knowledge. This talk applies probabilistic knowledge to problems in legal and moral philosophy. I begin by arguing that legal standards of proof require knowledge of probabilistic contents. For instance, proof by a preponderance of the evidence requires the factfinder to have greater than .5 credence that a defendant is liable, and also requires this probabilistic belief to be knowledge. Proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt requires knowledge of a significantly stronger content. The fact that legal proof requires knowledge explains why merely statistical evidence is insufficient to license a legal verdict of liability or guilt. In addition to explaining the limited value of statistical evidence, probabilistic knowledge enables us to articulate epistemic norms that are violated by acts of racial and other profiling. According to these norms, it can be epistemically wrong to infer from statistics that a person of Mexican ancestry is likely undocumented, for instance, even when inferring parallel facts about ordinary objects is perfectly okay.

Reception to follow in 6th floor lounge.

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