What’s Your Evidence?

Abbie, Philosophy Department office
Photo by Elmer Sprague

What’s Your Evidence?

In the claims and counter-claims of real life, what is to count as evidence?

Recently, I had occasion to try to defend myself to a third party, against the damaging claims of a person who had been victimizing me for many months.   In my own defense, I laid out a paper trail of carefully assembled documentary evidence, backed by a witness known to be truthful, who stood ready to confirm what I said.

To my vast disappointment — in the essentials —

I was not believed.

Let me qualify that.  My documents were not treated as fabrications.  My witness was not dismissed as unreliable.  Only as not probative.  As incapable of deciding the main question: Who here had been the most pitiable victim, the one most entitled to heartfelt sympathy?

Having been involved in two legal proceedings at an earlier period in my life, I know what sort of thing counts as “evidence.”

In the first proceeding, my case went to Arbitration.  When my union counsel looked through the documents I had rounded up, he said I was “the hardest working client” he’d ever had.  I was placed under oath, testifying for five hours, three of “direct” and two of “cross.”

The Arbitrator ruled in my favor.

In the second legal action, a lawyer friend read the Court Papers I submitted and emailed me: “Superb.  Reads like a closing argument.  Now you have to hope the judge reads them!”

The court case was settled in my favor out of court.

In my present situation, I believe the documentation and witness backing my claim to victimhood would have merit in a court of law.

However, we were not in a court of law.  We were friends having a discussion.  But I knew that I had not prevailed.  My adversary had got there first, with a story that made him seem the more compelling victim.  Nothing I could have said or done would have turned the emotional tide in my favor.  We parted friends, but my sense of defeat is large indeed.

During the week that followed, Jerry and I had our first movie outing since his surgery.  We went to see “The Bookshop,” a well-written, very well acted, beautifully photographed English film.  It’s about a woman who wants to open a nice little bookshop in an English village.  The local establishment tries to frustrate her at every turn.  With each snub and cut, she is made to realize that her insignificance is simply bottomless.

If an oblique sense of justice is supposed to shine — even through the mists of social life – the bookshop owner keeps being taught that she weighs less than a speck of dust on the social scales of justice.  For the just and the unjust, the scales stay level.  Justice weighs no more than injustice.

I sat through about a third of this artistic film before saying to Jerry,

We have to leave.

“It’s bringing back my year in England!  I feel asphyxiated.”

In this column, I’ve sometimes inveighed against utopian ideologies that aim to repair this imperfect world by comparing it with a fantasy realm – an escapist’s “unreal city in the future.”

The events of this week were a reminder that the difficult drill in real life is to stay in real life.  To show up.  To hang in.

But how?

Sometimes you feel that every door is shut, ditto the windows.  You feel as if you’re choking.  You just want to jump out of this world!  (Not by suicide.  That’s cheating.)  By dying of natural causes — but soon!  By endorsing some ideology built on proven impossibilities.  By treating the whole world as maya – illusion – and trying to walk around in a benevolent trance, hoping someone will love you for the phony, loving expression on your face.

So how does one stay real, and stay in real life, at times of utter frustration?   So far as I can tell, what you do is look around at the options.  Not everything is shut down tight.  There’s a bit of light in the room.  Ergo something must be open.  Take the door, or the window, that’s open – even if it’s open just a crack!

Take the merest sliver of an opening, and stay alert for further guidance, however you get it.  In the generality of cases, there will be some opening and/or guidance.

We should not scorn to take it.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Her next book project will be Conversations with My Father, the "Genius" Among the Giants. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to What’s Your Evidence?

  1. “The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns.” -George Santayana

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