Reasonable Doubt vs Preponderance of Evidence

In the legal system, we have two standards of evidence. For criminal cases, a person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, the party with the preponderance of evidence wins. This makes sense. We want to award civil cases to whoever has the best case. But for someone to be forever branded a criminal, we want a higher standard before the state labels (and punishes) them such.

I’ve seen at least a few Popperians claim that these standards don’t make philosophical sense because there is no such thing as ‘strength of a theory’ only theories that have or have not survived criticism. (Brett Hall expressed a related view here.) Popper disagrees with this view. He said we should strive for the following claims for our best theories:

This theory seems at present, in the light of a thorough critical discussion and of severe and ingenious testing, by far the best (the strongest, the best tested); and so it seems the one nearest to the truth among the competing theories.

Objective Knowledge, p. 82.

Popper consistently understood theories as getting stronger as they were subjected to more and more criticism and tests. This is what he understood the degree of corroboration to be. To Popper, a theory can and should be strengthened over time.

Given Popper’s view of corroboration, the different standards of evidence in court cases may be compatible with Popper’s epistemology.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *