Evidentiary Standards, Human Fallibility, and Conviction Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Guest Lecture on September 29, 2021, 6:15 p.m.

September 16, 2021

Guest lecture by Prof. Dr. Geert Keil (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) | Date, time: Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, 6:15 p.m. | Venue: Lecture room 1010, University building 1, Platz der Universität 3, 79098 Freiburg
– in cooperation with the Department of Political Science and Philosophy of Law at the University of Freiburg –

In a leading ruling on the standard of proof, the Federal Court of Justice stated in 1970 that judges must be convinced to a “degree of certainty” that need not quite be “beyond all reasonable doubt” but should go beyond a mere “probability bordering on certain­ty.” The former is not required by the law of evidence; the latter is not sufficient (Ruling of the Fed­eral Court of Justice in Civil Cases [BGHZ] 53, 245 ff.).
From an epistemological point of view, clarification is needed as to whether a doxastic approach fits into this narrow construct. The BGH ruling refers to “conviction”, the “truth of an assertion”, and the required “degree of certainty”, but it does not address the con­cept of knowledge, in which these elements converge and are related to each other. In episte­mol­ogy, it is disputed whether or not human fallibility, which is irrevocable, can be reconciled with the assumption that humans are capable of acquiring knowledge. The lecture outlines the tenets of a fallibilistic concept of knowledge and compares the challenge of determining a sufficient level for the standard of evidence to the epistemological challenge of reconciling “to err is human” with the claim to knowledge.

Geert Keil is a professor of philosophy at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and acting president of the German Society for Analyt­ical Philosophy (Gesellschaft für analytische Philosophie e.V., GAP). His most recent book on epistemology, Wenn ich mich nicht irre. Ein Versuch über die menschliche Fehlbarkeit [If I am not mistaken. On Human Fallibility], was published by Reclam Verlag (Stutt­gart) in 2019. Together with Ralf Poscher, he has edited the volumes Vagueness and Law. Philosophical and Legal Perspectives (Oxford University Press 2016) and Unscharfe Grenzen im Technik- und Um­welt­recht [Blurred Boundaries in Technology Law and Environmental Law] (Nomos 2012).

The lecture will be in German and features a detailed PowerPoint presentation in English.
Please note that you will probably be asked to follow the 2G rule [to show proof of vaccination or recovery]. General distancing and hygiene rules also apply.

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