March 01, 2017

Litigator's Muse: Sartre and How the Witnesses See Your Case

Michael E. Tigar

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This philosopher walks into a café. He is Jean-Paul Sartre. He is to meet his friend Pierre. Sartre is late. Pierre is usually punctual. Sartre looks around for Pierre. The café is full of people, conversation, aromas. But were we later to call Sartre as a witness, he would say, “I’ll tell you one thing. Pierre was not there.”

Discussing his visit to the café, Sartre wrote:

No one object, no group of objects is especially designed to be organized as specifically either ground or figure; all depends on the direction of my attention. When I enter this café to look for Pierre, there is formed a synthetic organization of all the objects in the café, on the ground of which Pierre is given as about to appear.

Sartre has defined for us what trial testimony is all about. When we ask questions, we are retrieving the witness’s consciousness of some past event. That consciousness was formed based on “the direction of [the witness’s] attention.”

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