In one of the most widely publicized trials in American history, former football star and actor O. J. Simpson was tried on two counts of murder, following the 1994 deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. In this 1996 lecture delivered at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum, Dr. Leonard Peikoff weighs in on “the trial of the century” from a philosopher’s perspective, arguing that “the verdict, along with what led to it, reveals in stark purity the contradictions of our legal system and of our entire nation.”

Peikoff looks at the issues raised by the trial and media response—including reasonable doubt, conspiracy theories, racism, planted gloves and arguments from emotion—and finds the process deficient from a philosophical point of view. Peikoff pays special attention to the standards by which evidence in a trial should be weighed, and he discusses the difference between arbitrary claims and evidence-based possibilities.

Based on his examination of the motives and attitudes of both jurors and attorneys, as well as the controversial techniques used by the defense, led by attorney Johnnie Cochran, Peikoff describes the trial as “a very ugly and frightening turning point” and “an event that forever embodies the essence of an era.”

The Q&A that follows the lecture expands on its subject matter and also includes the following topics:

  • Philosophy as a science
  • Government-assigned defense lawyers
  • The movie Forrest Gump
  • The philosophy of skepticism
  • The proper role of a defense attorney
  • Jury sequestration and jury selection
  • How a philosophy spreads throughout a culture
  • The civil rights movement