Gustavo Cevolani Matteo Pirisi

Probability, truthlikeness, and reasonable doubt: judicial reasoning as truth approximation

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In many fields, experts must reason and make decisions under conditions of uncertainty more or less severe. This is especially true within the courts: understanding how uncertainty affects the processes of reasoning, inference, and decision-making in the judiciary is a crucial and urgent issue. In this paper, we analyze judicial reasoning in the context of evidence evaluation in the criminal trial, with reference to the debate on “legal probabilismµ, i.e., the idea that judicial reasoning should be analyzed with the tools of probability and decision theory. Against legal probabilism, a number of objections have been raised, including the so-called puzzles of (merely) statistical evidence, which seem to show the untenability of that idea, especially in relation to the principle of “beyond a reasonable doubtµ as a standard of evidence. Using cognitive decision theory as an epistemological framework, we defend a qualified version of legal probabilism, based on the notion of truthlikeness (or verisimilitude or approximation to truth) as it is studied in contemporary philosophy of science.


  • legal reasoning
  • legal probabilism
  • decision making
  • reasonable doubt
  • truthlikeness
  • truth approximation


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