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TWENTY-ONE
LEGAL PUZZLERS

PHIL 22B
Spring 2000

THREE

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3. John and Alice: At It Again.
John throws a burning cigarette into a bush on the side of the road. The bush catches fire and just as the flames are dying down, Alice comes along and pours gasoline over them, and the forest burns down. Did John cause the forest to burn down?

  Commentary

COMMENTARY

Commentary. Here Alice insinuates herself into the causal sequence. Her action is the "in-between" action in this puzzler as the lightning was in the second puzzler. The only difference between the two scenarios would appear to be that her action represents a conscious, deliberate act by another human being whereas lightning is a natural event. If you think Alice's act breaks the causal chain, then her intervention marks the end of one causal sequence and the start of another. Then Alice, not John. did it? Then Alice, not John, caused the forest to burn down. Does Alice's free and deliberate act break the causal chain? What do you think? The next puzzler may make these reflections slightly clearer.

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Page last edited: December 18, 1999