Philosophical Question of the Day

Monday, September 25th, 2006

As soon as I read Scott Adams’ Philosophical Question of the Day, I knew exactly where he was going with it:

If a man goes into the forest and pokes a bear with a sharp stick, and the bear kills the man, whose fault is it?

Don’t read this next part until you have made up your mind whether it is the man’s fault or the bear’s fault.

As he says, don’t read ahead until you’ve answered the question:

Okay, you may continue.

Now substitute an irrational human being for the bear. The guy with the stick knows he’s dealing with an irrational and potentially violent person, and he pokes him with the stick anyway. Just like the bear, the irrational guy kills the guy who poked him.

Whose fault is it now? Is it the fault of the irrational guy or the fault of the unwise guy who poked him?

Okay, now suppose that the irrational guy is a specific kind of irrational guy – a literal believer in his faith. This is not an insult to the religious because even the Pope endorses the view that faith does not spring from rational thought. And let’s say this particular faith says that if ye poketh me with a sharpeth object, woe unto you, for I shall killeth!

And let’s say the irrational person is completely rational in every way that is not related to his religion. He might even be an engineer or a doctor. But his irrational side is well understood by all. Now the guy with the sharp stick pokes him and gets killed.

Whose fault is it?

I think it’s instructive to look at what we do with man-eating — or even man-biting — animals: we “put them down” or lock them in cages.

Everyone knows you shouldn’t poke a bear — or feed it, for that matter — but when a bear attacks people, people kill the bear.

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