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SPRING 2003




More Causal Chains


John Pulls the Trigger and Alice Jumps

John and Alice visit the Grand Canyon. As Alice is standing at the railing admiring the view, John fires at her and misses. The sound from the gun startles Alice and her right arm jerks up, an involuntary reflex reaction, and strikes Henry (who was standing next to her and also admiring the view) in the mouth. Smarting from the blow, Henry does a somersault over the rail and into the gorge below. Has John caused Henry's death?

John Tries Poison

John puts a lethal dose of arsenic in one of two bowls of soup. He puts the bowl in front of Alice. Just as she is about to take her first spoonful, John has an attack of remorse and confesses (to Alice) that he has spiked her soup with arsenic. Alice, however, says that life with John has really been dreadful these last few weeks and she has been contemplating suicide. She had not gone through with it only because she could not think of a way to go, but "tomato soup with arsenic" seems to Alice to be "the perfect way to go." She thanks John, puts down her spoon, cups the bowl in both her hands, and drinks the contents down in one gulp. She then collapses onto the floor and dies. Has John caused Alice's death?

John Tries To Push Henry Over the Edge

John sees his boss, Henry, standing by an open elevator shaft on the 21st floor of their new office building. The elevators have not (yet) been put in and John realizes that this is the perfect moment to get rid of Henry, to push him over the edge. With a loud cry, resembling that of his favorite Muppet character Miss Piggy, John charges down the hall, arms outstrectched headlong in the direction of Henry, who has his back to John and seems oblivious to his presence. Just before John reaches him, Henry jumps into the shaft and falls 21 stories to his death. Did John cause Henry's death?

John Sets Henry's House on Fire

John sets Henry's house on fire. Henry, who is sitting by the pool, at the time, rushes in to save his 92 year-old father who was asleep in the den. Henry saves his Dad, but receives serious third degree burns on both his arms. Has John caused Henry's injury?

John Punches Henry

Henry is by his pool getting some "rays" (Henry's expression) when John comes up behind him and shouts "boo." Henry jumps up, John punches him in the mouth. Henry, startled, grabs ahold of his mouth, and staggers backwards, and topples into the pool. His fall into the pool creates a small tidal wave which ripples across the pool and over the far edge where Henry's 92 year old father is returning with the morning paper to his own deckchair. Herny's 92 year old father slips on the water which is suddenly beneath his feet and breaks his hip. Has John caused Henry's father's injury?

John and Alice Visit the Redwood Forest

John and Alice get out of their car to explore the redwoods more closely. When they are no longer in sight of the car park, John gives Alice a playful shove and she trips and bruises her kneee. Just at that moment an old, old redwood crashes to the ground and kills Alice. Has John caused Alice's death?

United States v. Freeman, Massachusetts, 1827

Freeman, the captain of a ship told one of his seaman to "go aloft to hand the mainsail." The sea was rough with huge, heavy swells, and the other sailors told the captain that the "poor fellow" would never make it. But the captain said, "Damn him send him aloft," and he took a piece of rigging, beat the man with it and repeated "Damn you, start along. . . Now, damn you, away with you aloft. The seaman obeyed, and (sure enough) fell into the sea, and despite efforts to rescue him, drowned. Did Freeman cause the seaman's death?

John Takes Off On His New Harley

John goes for a spin on his motorcycle, a gift from Alice, a brand nw Harley, and John is having the time of his life. He's bought a pair of goggles and a white silk scarf and a leather motorcycle jacket with lots of pockets and zips. He has brand new boots and . . . but his outfit isn't the point. John is speeding along Main Street in Melrose when he is spotted by a policeman. The policeman, also on a motorcycle, pursues John down Main Street. Henry, an absent-minded pedestrian, steps off his bus, Number 34, and into the policeman's path and is killed instantly. For next "few" days the newspapers are full of debates over whose conduct was the "real cause" of the Henry's death, debates that seemed to hinge upon whose conduct was the least reasonable intrusion into the normal course of events. To express an opinion on the causal question seemed to be to take a stand, plain and simple, about the propriety of pursuits by police in heavily populated areas.

Stephenson v. State, Indiana, 1932

Stephenson kidnapped Madge Oberholtzer in Indianapolis and took her on a train. There he met up with several companions and together they brutally raped her. They forced her off the train in Hammond, Indiana and took her to a hotel room where they continued to berate and threaten her. Somehow she managed to get hold of some bichloride of mercury which she swallowed in an effort to kill herself. However she did not die. Instead she became very sick. Stephenson did not call a doctor but took her back to her home in Indianapolis, where a month later she died from the combined effects of her wounds and the poison. Did Stephenson and his companions cause Madge Oberholtzer's death?

Henry's Revenge

John is intensely jealous. The slightest hint of Alice's interest in anyone other than John himself sets John off. Why the other day John went on and on about a conversation Alice had, albeit briefly, with the check-out clerk at the local Stop-and-Shop. Henry knows that John is obsessive about Alice and has heard John say on more than one occasion that if he ever caught Alice with another man he would kill him. Henry learns of an affair that Alice is having with a co-worker named Fred. Henry hates Fred, owes him money and wishes Freddy, as his associates call him, "out of the way." Henry tells John of the affair, knowing what reaction this information is likely to arouse in his obsessive "friend," hoping that John will kill Fred. Then, as if on cue, John rushes home, takes his gun off the shelf in the hall closet, and goes out and shoots Fred: kills him, too. John is accused of murder and is now serving a life sentence in the state penitentiary. But did the State nab the wrong guy? Perhaps they should have arrested Henry? Did Henry cause Fred's death?

Why Blame Me - It Would Have Happened Anyway?

The police chief of a small German town in 1939, applied to the Main Security Office of the Reich for permission to take three Jewish merchants into "protective custody" and subsequently to transfer them to a concentration camp. The Main Security Office granted the request. After the war the former police chief was prosecuted for the unlawful imprsionment of the three merchants. He argued that his actions could not be treated as the cause of their misfortunes. If he had not made his application, they would have been taken into custody by the Gestapo or some other government agency. Regardless of the outcome of a prosecution, they would certainly have been transferred to a concentration camp, because they were Jews. The prosecution argued that all that was quite irrelevant. The reality was that the defendant amd no one else had caused the three merchants to be taken into custody and put into a concentration camp. The fact that someone else might otherwise have done so did nothing to alleviate his responsibility. Who was right?







Prepared: February 4, 2003 - 5:02:29 PM
Edited and Updated, February 5, 2003


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