28 October 2005


I hope to post tomorrow on some points raised by Kevin Flannery's BACAP paper. (Have I really not posted since Sunday? Blame it on the flu.)

But for tonight:

You can always count on a talk on action theory to raise interesting cases. Here's one that Flannery proposed in discussion.

There is a man who for a long time has hated his identical twin. One weekend they are both being hosted by a friend in an old manor house by the sea. The place is dark and unfamiliar to them. The one twin decides that this is the occasion for him finally to carry out a plan, long contemplated, of murdering his brother. He wakes in the middle of the night, gets a loaded gun, and goes out in the dim light to find his brother. He walks down a hall, turns the corner, and sees his brother. He fires the gun and strikes his brother in the chest -- or so it seemed. In fact, he had seen his own reflection in a body-length mirror and fired a bullet into the mirror. However, his twin was standing on the other side of the mirror, is struck by the bullet, and dies. Now did the man murder his twin?

Yes: intending to kill his brother, he acted in such a way that caused the death of his brother, but this is just to murder him.
No: although he intended to kill his brother, what he did was to shoot at a mirror; it only happened that his brother was standing behind the mirror. Thus, although what he did results in the death of his brother, he does not murder his brother.

To shore up the 'no' side: Imagine that the twin is not standing directly behind the mirror but is asleep in his bed on the floor below; the bullet, after passing through the mirror, ricochets off a steam pipe, is deflected downward through the floor, and strikes the brother sleeping on the floor below. Would you still want to say that the twin murdered his brother?


Anonymous said...

I think we might be able to successfully prosecute the evil twin for murder, given evidence of his premeditated intent ( mens rea ) to kill. Keep in mind that guilt or innocence is a DECISION reached by a the jury. The jury will have to consider the exceptional circumstances of the shooting, but I think they might decide that the actual trajectory of the bullet doesn't matter, given the intent to kill. There are actual cases somewhat similar and juries have convicted. I would vote to convict. Again, keep in mind that the verdict is decision, not an inference.

Jimmy Doyle said...

I'm not sure what the significance is supposed to be of Anonymous's insitence that the jury makes a decision rather than an inference. Surely we can't deny that, however else their thinking is to be described, the jury are supposed to reach a conclusion on the basis of the evidence as wo whether guilt is beyond reasonable doubt? One might call it a decision, but only in the sense in which a decision is an inference.

As for the case, the issue of whether the act counts legally as murder is less important, morally, than the moral status of the act. Would anyone deny that the act is morally as bad as murder, regardless of how it may be legally described?

Anonymous said...

The question is, did the man MURDER his brother? Some terms in ordinary speech—I forget how JLAustin classifies them—defer in their usage to the findings of official bodies. If a properly constituted jury finds Smith guilty of a charge of murder in connection with the death of his brother, them Smith MURDERED his brother. That settles it.
( pending appeals, reviews, etc) To a jury coming to deliberation in this case, there is no chance of a directed verdict because statutory homicide law is not going to explicitly address such bizarre circumstances. The jury will in effect be making new law—case law—when it decides its verdict. We can hope the jury chooses to regard the ballistics as irrelevant and convicts, but they are free to take the opposite view and acquit. No verdict may be deduced or inferred from the facts of the case plus statutory law.
The logic of terms of moral condemnation, it seems, is very different