What was the main problem of the Salem Witch Trials?

The main problem in the Salem Witch Trials was that the crime with which the defendants were charged does not exist. Therefore, it was impossible to hold a fair trial or to prove guilt or innocence.

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The Salem Witch Trials was a concatenation of problems, but the most important of them—the one which made injustice inevitable—was that the crime at issue does not exist. This central problem gave rise to several other problems, which are explored in both history and literature, most notably in The Crucible ...

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The Salem Witch Trials was a concatenation of problems, but the most important of them—the one which made injustice inevitable—was that the crime at issue does not exist. This central problem gave rise to several other problems, which are explored in both history and literature, most notably in The Crucible. While Arthur Miller's play can be somewhat cavalier with the historical details, he is fully alive to the philosophical implications of what happened in Salem in 1692, particularly the problems that arise from trying people for an imaginary crime.

The first problem is that, since the crime does not exist, there can clearly be no proof that it was committed. The judges therefore shifted the burden of proof onto the defendants. They were guilty until proven innocent. It also meant that the trials lacked transparency. The opinion of scholars such as John Hale and Cotton Mather was accepted in lieu of hard evidence.

The supernatural nature of the crime also made it impossible to disprove. An alibi was of no use, since it was assumed that a witch could be in two places at once. Indeed, the ability to project out of body was supposed to be one of the attributes of a witch. On a similar point, judges and witnesses both indulged extensively in guesswork. There is a Japanese proverb to the effect that dogs are difficult to draw while demons are easy, since everyone knows what a dog looks like and no one knows what a demon looks like. Similarly, the attributes and powers of a witch are easy to describe, since all one has to do is make them up.

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