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How to decide whether to go see Bill Cosby in Hamilton Friday

01/06/2015 06:02 EST | Updated 03/08/2015 05:59 EDT
When Tammy Wilson won two tickets to every show at Hamilton Place for 2015 in a contest, she was looking forward to taking her sister to see Bill Cosby perform there on Jan. 9. 

But that anticipation changed. Now Wilson won't be using her free tickets to see the comedian, against whom at least 15 women have levied sexual assault allegations. Cosby has not been charged in connection with any of the accusations.

"It was right after the first allegations started coming forth in the fall last year, that I knew I wouldn't want to attend this show," Wilson said. "I think it absolutely sends a message of support for Cosby to attend. I know that I would not enjoy the performance because my view of him has forever been changed."

The dilemma Wilson faced hits home for many Hamiltonians because of Cosby's planned performance Friday. Those with or without tickets might be thinking through some ethical questions this week ahead of his performance. Should I go? Should I protest? What does my attendance or my avoidance signify? 

While a frequent response is to let courts determine the comedian's innocence or guilt, a McMaster philosopher said the questions raised ahead of Friday are really more personal, more variable, depending on whether a person still feels comfortable in light of what's been alleged to support the person with his or her money and time.

Like Wilson, Carol Fields thought about what message she wants to send with her tickets, too. But Fields' decision is the opposite of Wilson's. 

Fields and her daughter plan to attend the show on Friday, though they're worried about disruptions by the "yahoos". Local groups are planning protests both inside and outside the Hamilton Place Theatre.

"I'll admit, at first we had doubts, but only because of the protesters," Fields said. "But in conversations with people, I thought, 'What am I saying if I don't go?'"

She said the protesters have a right to their opinion but not to "spoil it" for others who want to see the show. Cosby has not been convicted of a crime, she said.

"As far as a message being sent, hopefully Mr. Cosby will feel supported by those in attendance," she said. 

Stefan Sciaraffa specializes in the philosophy of law and social, moral and political philosophy at McMaster University. He said the situation raises questions that require personal consideration. Some attendees may take the perspective that Cosby's talent and performing is separate from the sexual assault allegations swirling around him. 

And as Fields reiterated, one of the most frequent responses in this conversation is that Cosby has not been convicted of a crime. 

'Should I go see this person and give him my money?'

In situations like these, Sciaraffa said, that forms one of the lines of questioning a person goes through when making a decision about his or her actions. 

"One thing that gets bandied about is what sort of standard of proof do you need to affect your actions," he said.

In the Cosby case, many people are suggesting that the standard of proof is a legal one — that Cosby is innocent until proven guilty by a court. 

Sciaraffa isn't surprised to see that legal judgment as a go-to. "This is a hard question," he said. "They're trying to find something that will help them answer it."

But the "assumption should be questioned" that the courts are the singular decision-making framework here, he said. In a legal framework, in trial courts, the standard of evidence required is to decide "whether or not we should incarcerate someone or take their money."

"But there's a different standard of proof, I'm not clear exactly what it is in this case, about whether I support this with my money," Sciaraffa said. "We're asking ourselves, 'Should I go see this person and give him my money?' What exactly am I doing by going to this?"

'Some degree of evidence that should be applied here'

Sciaraffa said the answer to that question may look different depending on your perspective. But the standard of proof for a boycott or for a personal decision to support the performer with your money may look different than whether the allegations of sexual assault could result in legal charges or convictions.

That doesn't mean Cosby doesn't deserve the presumption of innocence, or that the allegations should be substantiated, he said.

"The idea that there's some degree of evidence that should be applied here, that's right," he said. "But certainly not the courts, not 'beyond a reasonable doubt.'"

In this case, Sciaraffa said, the question is not, "Is he guilty?" but rather "There's too much of a chance that... there's a significant chance..." 

Fields said she doesn't like the implications of the protests, because Cosby has not been convicted of a crime. 

"If we shunned everyone accused of something, boy oh boy, what a world we would live in," she said. "What's that saying, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones!"

Wilson feels differently. 

"Just seeing his face in all of the news feeds and articles is too much for me now," she said. Still, Wilson said she doesn't agree with Anne Bokma's planned protest indoors, so she won't give her tickets to that effort.

 

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