Friday, March 02, 2012

Philosophers Worry About These Things, So Should Bunnies

From Futility Closet

Suppose I pour poison in the water tank of a space ship while it stands on earth. My purpose is to kill the space traveller, and I succeed: when he reaches Mars he takes a drink and dies. Two events are easy to distinguish: my pouring of the poison, and the death of the traveller. One precedes the other, and causes it. But where does the event of my killing the traveller come in? The most usual answer is that my killing the traveller is identical with my pouring the poison. In that case, the killing is over when the pouring is. We are driven to the conclusion that I have killed the traveller long before he dies.
– Donald Davidson, “The Individuation of Events,” in N. Rescher et al., eds., Essays in Honor of Carl G. Hempel, 1969

From Rabbet Run by Barry Brook

End of the Century-2184
"...Hansen's bones are quiet at last,
...No science disturbs the lucid line,
For sun-scorched Earthers tune their thought
To Offword Station 'Holocene-1'
From where they know just what they ought,
...memories of times past that should be banished
Only relics, philosophies and a parched wasteland lie below..."


Anonymous said...

Ah, but what if a meteor kills the traveler before he takes a sip? Or, what if the Martians save him from the poison?

I would distinguish between the attempt to kill someone (which can take place long before the actual death) and the actual killing...


Lars Karlsson said...

What about if someone else sabotages the water tank, so the water is lost in space and the traveler dies of thirst? Who is guilty then: the poisoner or the water tank saboteur?

mike roddy said...

I disagree with Anonymous and Lars. They sound like attorneys, not observers.

Koch and Tillerson, among others, belong in prison for murder. In a just society, they have already earned it from things like maintenance lapses, but their real crime is against our grandchildren, and it's a real one.

Anonymous said...

"We are driven to the conclusion that I have killed the traveller long before he dies."

Actually, no. We are not driven to that conclusion at all (ie, it does not follow logically)

If the person dies as a result, it's murder, but the actual "killing" (which is contingent on death) still occurred when the person drank the poison.

Not before.

...just as the murder of a person with a bullet fired from a gun occurs when the bullet penetrates a vital organ and kills them (although in that case, there is obviously much less time involved )

Most reasonable people (and certainly the law) would not claim it was murder if the person somehow managed to survive -- eg, because they were wearing a bulletproof vest in the case of the bullet, or in the case of the poison, if it somehow "broke down" and became chemically harmless on the way, or if someone found out and warned the space traveller not to drink the water

BTW, not that it matters, but how does the traveller manage to make it all the way to Mars before taking a drink of water? perhaps there is more than one tank? If that is the case, why was only one of them poisoned?


dbostrom said...

I wonder what it's like to live in world bereft of thought experiments? Appreciation of the theory of relativity not possible because it does not happen "just so?" Impoverishment.

Obtuse: not just an angle.

Anonymous said...

Apparently Mike Roddy can't handle the idea of a hypothetical case (btw, I'm a climate scientist, not an attorney). But let's try again, with something a little more "real".

Who is liable for a death from smoking cigarettes, and what are they liable for?

The grower? Phillip Morris' CEO? The person who sells the pack? The person who smokes the cigarette? The advertisers? The guy who testifies that cigarettes are safe? The guy who pays the guy who testifies that cigarettes are safe?

And are they liable for murder, or just for the cover-up (for the ones who participated in the cover-up)?

(btw, I actually don't know where I fall on this question... to make it more abstract again, I think one could charge a guy with murder if he has reason to know that eating a berry will kill you and he gives you the berry and tells you it is safe... but what if the berry only has a 1 percent chance of killing you - and that is 10 years in the future? Also, I think a key element of this is the "knowing + lying", which is always hard to prove. People can convince themselves of some pretty unrealistic things if their livelihoods depend on believing it)


willard said...

The paper:

David B. Benson said...

The philospher (and commenters here) obviously need to review causality, starting with Aristole:

Jeffrey Davis said...

Why we distinguish between murder and attempted murder is baffling to me.

Anonymous said...

"Why we distinguish between murder and attempted murder is baffling to me."

Oh goody. Now we're into the wonderful world of necessary and/or sufficient conditions.

Murder is a death where someone intended that death. Attempted murder involves the intent without the death.


Anonymous said...

It might not be murder until the victim dies, but if the death is inevitable, is there any substantive difference? Hollywood, at least, likes to think not.

In one of the few episodes of 'The Mentalist' that I actually saw, a virologist was exposed to a lethal virus in a contained lab, and realised that she had been deliberately targetted. She, and the constabulary, refer to "her murder" even before the actual event.

And then there's Minority Report, the only Cruise movie that I actually enjoyed.

Also begging the question is whether there can be accessories before the fact - as opposed to conspirators.

Bernard J. Hyphen-Anonymous XVII, Esq.