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Strict liability even in this case?

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Eugene Posted: Mon, Sep 10 2012 1:41 PM

1. Let's say a bad guy put a rope on a road that is attached to a gun which is directed at Jones. Should you be liable for murder of Jones if you knowingly stepped on the rope? 

2. Now let's assume the bad guy put a lot of ropes around you when you were asleep. If you stand up or move your body in other ways, Jones gets killed. Suppose you did stand up knowing that Jones will die, and Jones got killed. Should you be liable for murder?

What do you think?

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Bert replied on Mon, Sep 10 2012 1:47 PM

1. No.

2. No.

Of course, it's the "bad guy" you spoke of.  This could probably all be explained in the Saw series (I-IV only).

I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. - Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
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Eugene replied on Mon, Sep 10 2012 1:59 PM

I am inclined to think you are at least partially liable. 

Suppose you are dying from hunger and you steal a loaf of bread. Obviously you are liable for theft. This is very similar to the second (harder) case.

In both cases you find yourself in a situation in which by damaging property or person you save yourself either from death or from major inconvinience.I don't think its legitimate for you make a decision that your property is more important than the property of another innocent person.

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Autolykos replied on Mon, Sep 10 2012 1:59 PM

For both situations, I'd say that both I and the person you're calling "the bad guy" are both the bad guys. I believe I've pointed out the legal (really moral) theory of common purpose to you before. Why do you ignore it?

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gotlucky replied on Mon, Sep 10 2012 2:32 PM

Not only does he ignore your excellent point, but he ignored this question that I posed to him in another thread:



That's your problem with these types of questions. You want a priori armchair legal analysis where it is an inappropriate method. The relevant social norms that arise are exactly what is needed in order to answer many of your questions, including this one.

When you can tell me the proper price of oranges in NYC through a priori armchair analysis, you'll be able to answer this question through a priori armchair analysis.

I do see a difference between the two situations, that you are a hostage in the second. If we were to assume that you are complicit in the murder just by trying to move, nevermind trying to escape, am I to believe that you must lie in your bed for the rest of your life? In my opinion, a lot of these scenarios have to do with the matter of acting reasonably. Did the cops in NYC act reasonably? They wounded 9 innocent people. Given the circumstances, I say they were unreasonable and liable. But what if they were shooting and a bunch of bystanders ran in the way? They still might be liable if they were shooting in an area where that is likely to happen, in my opinion.

The matter of what is reasonable is almost entirely (if not entirely) dealt with through norms. What is reasonable in one situation is not necessarily reasonable in a similar but not identical situation. I think that way too many of these questions presume that we can reason out an answer a priori. Maybe we can, but I think some of these are best left to an individual case by case basis and the relevant social norms.

Also, I am not trying to weasel out of causation. If you are the cause of doing wrong to someone, then I believe you are liable. But the question is whether or not you are the cause. And I am not so sure that if you acted reasonably you can necessarily be said to be the cause. Just one example to highlight that would be if a driver hit a pedestrian. If you are driving reasonably in the area you are, and then someone just runs into the road, I do not believe that you are liable if you hit them. If you are driving unreasonably and hit someone, then I think you are liable. Obviously, the key difference between Eugene's scenario and the driver is that you are acting reasonably without "certain" knowledge of hurting another in the latter.

How about this for an example: You and another person are exploring an Indiana Jones type temple. You step on secret plate that traps your companion and sets up a mechanism to shoot spikes at your him. Now, it will only trigger if you move off the plate (and let's presume that you know this information). Are you liable if you step off the plate? I think it completely depends upon the circumstances. If you stepped on the plate knowing you could use it as a weapon, then I think you are liable. But if you did not know about it until after you stepped on the plate, I think you could only be liable if you had intent. To go ahead and say that you must remain on the plate for the rest of your life lest the trap kills your friend would be perverse. But what if you waited for a day and some fellow archaeologist could come save you both? Is there a difference if you "know" someone will come save you or if you don't "know"? I put know in quotations because you can never really know for certain in such a scenario.

Anyway, I think I have rambled enough. The main point I am making is that I don't think there is some a priori cookie cutter answer to these questions Eugene keeps posing. What I don't get is his resistance to the concept of social norms. Maybe they are relevant now, and maybe they aren't. But he keeps searching for cookie cutter answers where I think they don't exist.

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Eugene replied on Mon, Sep 10 2012 3:05 PM

Regarding the "social norms" objection, I answered this many times before. Anarchy can also lead to a social norm that is the opposite of NAP. We don't want that. Do you know what are the social norms in Somalia? I doubt you'd want those social norms. You want your own norms, and about these norms I am asking you.

Regarding acting reasonably. The problem with that, is that it is very subjective. Is it reasonable to bomb civilian areas because terrorists are hiding there? What if you don't have the money or the resources to use smart bombs and can't wage a full scale war in order to be able to use ground troops and in this way avoid aerial bombardments? Already it starts to sound reasonable. So should we now be in favor of the war in Iraq or something?

Also what about the bakery analogy? It would very reasonable for you to steal the loaf of bread if you ran out of options. Do you think its justified? I believe its not

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Wheylous replied on Mon, Sep 10 2012 4:55 PM

The original guy is the person who causally put in you that situation. He's liable. See Block on trolley cart scenarios.

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