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Fall 2020 Seminar

Evidence and Reason

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam

We rely on reasoned inferences with reliable evidence to manage everyday life — to decide, for example, what precautions are prudent in the face of a pandemic. Reasoned inferences with reliable evidence are also essential to three domains that are of special interest to us in this course: law, politics, and science. Despite the importance of good reasoning with reliable evidence, it has become a commonplace to say that we live in a “post-truth” public (including online) space, in this country and more broadly around the world. We may define a “post-truth” space as one in which canons that call for careful weighing of evidence and the testing of judgments about what is true are either overtly rejected and disparaged or silently disrespected and unheeded. In this seminar we explore several related questions: What are the criteria of good evidence in the domains of law, politics, and science? Are the criteria for good evidence the same across these domains? Is there a counterpart to post-truth politics in what might be called “post-truth law”? Could there be such a thing as post-truth science? Is there something valuable in post-truth? Valuable to whom, and for what? Readings are from cases, statutes, politicians’ public political statements, and works by philosophers, intellectual historians, legal theorists, and cognitive scientists. Course work consists of class participation and a paper on a topic, to be worked out with the professor, that is fairly related to course topics and readings.

Open to cross-registrants from other schools.