Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
A Popular Maxim Examined
By William Paley (1743–1805)
From Moral and Political Philosophy

[AFTER disputing the saying that circumstantial evidence falls short of positive proof, he goes on:—]
  The other maxim which deserves a similar examination is this:—“That it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent man should suffer.” If by saying it is better be meant that it is more for the public advantage, the proposition, I think cannot be maintained. The security of civil life, which is essential to the value and the enjoyment of every blessing it contains, and the interruption of which is followed by universal misery and confusion, is protected chiefly by the dread of punishment. The misfortune of an individual (for such may the sufferings, or even the death, of an innocent person be called when they are occasioned by no evil intention) cannot be placed in competition with this object I do not contend that the life or safety of the meanest subject ought, in any case, to be knowingly sacrificed: no principle of judicature, no end of punishment can ever require that.  2
  But, when certain rules of adjudication must be pursued, when certain degrees of credibility must be accepted in order to reach the crimes with which the public are infested; courts of justice should not be deterred from the application of these rules by every suspicion of danger, or by the mere possibility of confounding the innocent with the guilty. They ought rather to reflect, that he who falls by a mistaken sentence, may be considered as falling for his country, whilst he suffers under the operation of those rules, by the general effect and tendency of which the welfare of the community is maintained and upholden.  3

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