Philosophical Dialogues, Why do we feel?, Hunter and Bain, Jake Jackson

Dialogues | Who is Responsible for an Accidental Death?

High in the mountain Hunter and Bain rest in a balcony overlooking the great valley of dreams. Behind them a flame-haired monk enters, bows and brings tea in delicate porcelain cups. As he waits for Hunter to deliver his approval subtle fragrances drift in through the simple pillars carved into the mountainside ushering the monk back into the cool darkness of the inner chambers.

The time does not matter, nor the year.

Bain: This is so peaceful, we should come here more often.

Hunter: Depends what you want from life I suppose.

Bain: Oh surely there comes a time when even you seek relaxation

Hunter, fidgeting with his mechanical eyepiece: No, no, I hate it. Too much to do.

Bain: Hah, I suppose it takes a severe injury to force you stop.

Hunter withheld a grin but did not bother to restrain the corners of his mouth: Perhaps.

Bain: If you were injured, whose fault would it be? I mean, if it was an accident.

Hunter: That depends on your perspective.

Bain: Well, if it was a knife, a kitchen knife say, and, distracted by me coming in you drop it on your bare foot.

Hunter. Well, I would never appear in a kitchen, use a kitchen knife, or walk around with bare feet.

Bain: As you know, that’s beside the point, so?

Hunter: Are you asking an absolute question, or a relative one?

Bain: I don’t understand.

Hunter: Well, if you introduce random chance into the equation, then there is no fault.

Bain: Hmm, that doesn’t go very far. And I don’t believe in random events. I know you don’t either. You always say every event has a causal chain.

Hunter: So it depends how far back you want to lay the blame.

Bain: It seems to me to be a straight choice between you not holding the knife properly, or me for not noticing you had a knife, so being more incautious by interrupting you.

Hunter: Possibly, but is that not too immediate? Is the knife manufactured so poorly that it can spring from my feeble hand? Does the maker of the knife not have a more safety mechanisms to stop such an event occurring? Should the kitchen not have been able to warn me either of your imminent approach, or stop you from entering at all while I had such a lethal object in my hand?

Bain: Even so, you might still have tripped and dropped the knife.

Hunter: So the manufacturer is at fault?

Bain: Well they created a device which can cause the damage to your foot.

Hunter: But did they intend that damage? Is it not simply an unhappy consequence of an otherwise intentioned product?

Bain: You mean like a bomb designed to kill an enemy but kills innocent people as well.

Hunter: Hm, you might have talked about guns exploding in the hand first!

Bain: Sure, but it’s all the same, the manufacturer, either consciously or otherwise will know that damage can occur if not used correctly. Hence the warnings in most instruction sheets.

Hunter: I’m not sure that’s taking account of the predilection of you humans for inflicting damage, accidental or otherwise. That scrap of paper is of little use when faced with a clumsy individual such as myself, or a six year-old intent on exploring.

Bain: You’re not clumsy, but then you’re not human either.

Hunter: But the point stands. In fact I might also say that this inherent tendency for accident is a function of human curiosity. If you were always cautious you’d never invent anything. It’s a function of an intelligent mind to find out new things, make mistakes on the way and correct them, so learn from them.

Bain: Sounds like a grudging respect for humankind.

Hunter: It does doesn’t it.

Bain: But what you’re actually saying is that the maker of a knife, or a gun, or a bomb is itself the product of a tendency within humanity.

Hunter: And you could argue that it’s exactly that tendency which has allowed humans to survive, then expand.

Bain: So that’s a good thing, and the damage to your foot is an unhappy, but allowable by-product of a deeper truth which allows the species to thrive.

Hunter: I’m not sure ‘truth’ is the word, primary motivation perhaps, which has consequences along the causal chain.

Bain stayed silent for a moment: Uhuh. So, how’s your foot?

Hunter: Stop trying to be funny.

They both looked out at the serene mountains, the plunging beauty of the valley hidden by the mists, and reflected further on the weapons of humankind.


Also published on Medium.

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