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30 September 2009

Proving a Negative

Aristotle once demonstrated that it is impossible to prove a negative.  A person can prove a positive.  A Court can prove someone is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.  But no one can prove innocence.  This is the justification for guilty-until-proven-innocent.  A person is assumed innocent and the burden of proof is placed on the party making the allegations.  Is this right?  Why should the accused be presumed innocent, especially if he/she is actually guilty.  Is it not unfair that society must prove guilt?  The simple answer is that the opposite simply does not work.  Failure to prove guilt does not prove innocence.  Failure to prove guilt does just that; it fails to prove guilt.  Guilty persons do get away under this system.  That much is true.  But if it is logical that guilt can be proven but innocence will always elude the observer, then we have no rational alternative but to accept a guilt-until-proven-innocence perspective.


That was at one time a radical thought.  Yet, today we take that same founding principle of justice for granted.  As I sit pondering this today, I realize that every jurist in history has had to separate his/her emotions from the case at hand and apply this principle.  I also realize that doing so is often hard.  Today, for instance, I encountered a technical support agent for a vendor I would prefer not to name.  This person had, to me, dropped the ball and I was pissed.  I presumed the person was guilty and did not attempt to prove my position at the time.  In short I lost my temper.  Yet as I now realize it was someone in another department which had dropped the ball and I had ASSUMED the wrong person guilty.  Oops.  I called and apologized, then stopped to think.  (This whole proving a negative thing is lingering with me today.)  I realize that I would not make a good judge.  I failed to consider the facts.  Had this man been accused of more than messing up a server, I would have sent him to the chair! 


I know this has nothing to do with standing up on its face.  But one must remember, before standing up we must often sit for a while and consider the question of what we stand for.

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