Sunday, April 08, 2012

25. Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Words almost certainly spoken by Socrates
(Google Images)

It hasn’t been very easy, I admit, to find a sequel to Plato’s dialogue the Theaetetus: more than two thousand five hundred years old, still valid in all its complexity, steadily studied, bringing solidity to all of Western philosophy – sufficient reasons to regard it as awe-inspiring.

Those of you who have accompanied Peter Adamson in his plea for profound thinking must have already learnt a bit more about how knowledge relates to true belief. Needless to say, the very mention of there being true belief implies the possibility of false belief always beguiling Man into jumping to statements. But let’s stick to the line of argument in the Theaetetus, and consider this for a moment: in order for someone to say they know something, they have to assume that there is a truth independent of any perceiver. It goes without saying that that someone may be you, and may be me.

Wikipedia Images
We are by now floating deep in the nebula of relativism, and the conclusion is crystal clear: without a general account of false belief, there is hardly the case that we would be able to grasp knowledge by invoking some middle ground. As Peter Adamson concludes, knowledge must have something to do with true belief; in the example he gives about the case of the jury, he tackles a facet which is by all standards important: jurors are people like you or me; while in court listening to both parties, they come under the influence of the lawyers’ performance. Now, what lawyers can (or, rather, usually) do is use the oratorical art of persuasion in order to convince the jury of a person’s guilt or, for that matter, innocence. Through the lawyers’ skilful management of language, the jury comes to have a true belief – but not knowledge – originating in the discourse performed by the two professionals. Now, come to think of it: if verdicts depended only on what the defense and the prosecution lawyers say, then a person’s fate would be the result of his or her lawyer’s mastery in using oratory.

Google Images
I’ll keep Professor Adamson’s tentative statement in mind: “Maybe knowledge is true belief plus something else as well... something the jurors are lacking, but which you would have if you were, say, an eye-witness at the murder scene and know that the accused man is innocent.”

And so it goes that it is evidence which helps us – you, me, or a jury – to tell how close we can get to knowledge, a topic ranking high among topical subjects wherever there is a judicial system willing to seek the truth about a person’s innocence. What better entry could I add but one about a classic?

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12 Angry Men is a 1957 American drama film directed by Sidney Lumet. The film tells the story of a jury made up of 12 men as they deliberate the guilt or acquittal of a defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt. In the United States (both then and now), the verdict in most criminal trials by jury must be unanimous one way or the other¹. The film is notable for its almost exclusive use of one set: with the exception of the film's opening, which begins outside on the steps of the courthouse and ends with the jury's final instructions before retiring, a brief final scene on the courthouse steps and two short scenes in an adjoining washroom, the entire movie takes place in the jury room. The total time spent outside of the jury room is three minutes out of the full 96 minutes of the movie.

12 Angry Men explores many techniques of consensus-building, and the difficulties encountered in the process, among a group of men whose range of personalities adds intensity and conflict. Apart from two of the jurors swapping names while leaving the courthouse, no names are used in the film: the defendant is referred to as "the boy" and the witnesses as the "old man" and "the lady across the street".
¹Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of evidence required to validate a criminal conviction in most adversarial legal systems such as the United States.

The 12 Jurors, in the order of dissenting:
Google Images
1st (Henry Fonda), Juror 8: An architect, the first dissenter and protagonist;
2nd (Joseph Sweeney), Juror 9: A wise and observant elderly man;
3rd (Jack Klugman), Juror 5: A young man from a violent slum, a Baltimore Orioles fan; 
4th (George Voskovec), Juror 11: A European watchmaker and naturalized American citizen; 
5th (John Fiedler), Juror 2: A meek and unpretentious bank clerk who is at first domineered by others, but finds his voice as the discussion goes on; 
6th (Edward Binns), Juror 6: A house painter, tough but principled and respectful; 
7th (Jack Warden), Juror 7: A salesman, sports fan, superficial and indifferent to the deliberations;
8th (Robert Webber), Juror 12: A wisecracking, indecisive advertising executive;  
9th (Martin Balsam), Juror 1/The Foreman The jury foreman, somewhat preoccupied with his duties; proves to be accommodating to others. An assistant high school football coach;
10th (Ed Begley), Juror 10: A garage owner; a pushy and loud-mouthed bigot;
11th (E. G. Marshall), Juror 4: A rational stockbroker, unflappable, self-assured, and analytical;
12th (Lee J. Cobb), Juror 3: A businessman and distraught father, opinionated and stubborn with a temper; the antagonist.
Since the characters are featured as numbers (please do not suspect Sidney Lumet of negligence!), their background, attitude and order of <conversion> are important. What is more, their being characterized as ‘everyman’ requires their being kept anonymous – after all, when their job is done, they return to their ordinary lives. 
These are the URLs you can click on to watch the ten episodes of the film. Click the link below and watch the ten episodes:

The next post, which will deal with Indirect Speech, will contain the plot, and a variant of the dialogues you can follow in the attached videos. The characters’ exchanges, which appear captioned at the bottom of the screen, are extremely useful for you to pause and write down your own variant of Reported Speech.


  1. This is an interesting topic to debate; I think that justice is a really difficult theme. In my opinion, nobody can know exactly if somebody is guilty or not guilty unless he/she has been at the scene of crime. The jury only can base their decision in things (evidences, testimony...) that the lawyers want to present and they are going to show things in their own interest. It´s very difficult because you can send to prison an innocent person…And you can be influenced by the persuasion of a lawyer...

    I haven´t seen 12 Angry Men, but I can recommend another movie related to this topic. Have you ever seen “Primal Fear”? The main characters are Martin Vail (Richard Gere) and Aaron (Edward Norton) and it was directed by Gregory Hoblit.
    In the movie, an Archbishop has been brutally murdered and Aaron is charged with the crime. Martin Vail will be his lawyer. Aroon says that he didn´t commit the crime, and Martin believes him because of his sweet-faced. Martin persuaded the jury although all the evidence suggests that Aaron is guilty and the jury seem to believe him…
    You should see the film to find out what happens at the end…It´s a great movie! It shocked me!

    1. You're quite right, I couldn't agree more; in fact, I do believe that quite a few innocent people HAVE BEEN DECLARED GUILTY when they weren't, and - thanks to the lawyers' expert manipulation of language - more than one culprit has been found not guilty. But reality is full of shades of grey, isn't it? The rest is for us to decide.

      I chose the 1957 version of the film because of Sidney Lumet's direction - he proved his mastery in so many films! - and also because of it being made in black and white: a very suggestive technique in cinema.

      You can watch the full version here:

      It's for free, of course, and it only lasts a mere 96 minutes 22 seconds.

      And one more thing: there's this irony with respect to evidence, simply due to the consistency (or lack of it) present or not in the witnesses' testimonies. In this case, the "eye witnesses" turned out to be short-sighted, almost deaf, even incapable of walking swiftly...

      I hope I've whetted your (and your colleagues') appetite!

    2. I remember this same play but performanced as a theater play for TV in the seventies on the missing "estudio 1" with José Bódalo, José María Rodero and Sancho Gracia among other magnificent actors. I also recommend seeing this masterpiece in Spanish with such an exceptional cast of Spanish actors. This kind of plays is impossible to see nowadays on TV.