Yesterday’s post had one Mr Sweeney raging on about certain fundamental deficits, here is another Sweeney, a Mr Justice no less, getting hot and bothered by the panel of eight women and four men who had the simple duty of sitting as a jury in his court at the trial of Vicky Pryce. He discharged them following more than 15 hours of deliberations, and a day after they submitted 10 questions that indicated they had not grasped the basics of their task.
Question 5 is my favourite:
Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it, either from the prosecution or defence?
In other words, can a juror arrive at a faith-based verdict, one that is entirely irrational? (As A. C. Grayling is fond of pointing out, the word rational derives from ratio, and reminds us that rationality — the engine driving critical thinking — involves proportioning our beliefs to the evidence available.)
Given the order in which the judge read the questions out, it seems that question 5 — coming first — was his favourite too. (His answer, as if we couldn’t guess, was a firm “no”.)
Religion is made explicit in the final question:
Would religious conviction be a good enough reason for a wife feeling that she had no choice ie she promised to obey her husband in her wedding vows and he had ordered her to do something and she felt she had to obey?
In light of this, the only surprise is the absence of a question about the permissibility of revelation as a route to knowledge. Perhaps putting it so baldly — Can we convict on god’s say-so? — would be a step too far for even the most pious citizen.
I’ve just listened to this podcast interview of Daniel Kahneman, who draws a distinction between System 1 (fast) and System 2 (slow) thinking (see Kahneman 2011). He reminds us that reasoning is hard work:
A law of least effort applies. People are reluctant, some more than others, by the way, there are large individual differences. But thinking is hard, and it’s also slow. And because automatic thinking is usually so efficient, and usually so successful, we have very little reason to work very hard mentally, and frequently we don’t work hard when if we did we would reach different conclusions.
Perhaps some of the jurors belonged to the “more reluctant” category, but drawing such a conclusion on limited evidence would of course not be reasonable.