Wednesday, February 23, 2005

On philosophical amnesia and killing people

Consider the following story, similar to the memory erasing stories from class today. Suppose that this evil guy takes over your personality and goes on a killing spree with your body, all of this happening on Monday. On Tuesday you somehow convince a jury that you have no recollection of the events and therefore are not the same person as the person who went on the spree.

Now suppose you want to kill someone that is still alive. You know that the philosophical amnesia plea works, so you take advantage of it in the following way:

On Wednesday you proceed with the murder and leave plenty of evidence that it was you, but you erase your own memory to where it was on Sunday, before the evil guy hijacked your body. Since you erased your memory you have no recollection of willingly committing the murder. You also don't know about the memory erasing machine or about anything that happened since Sunday.

I now pose two questions: First, are you guilty of the Wednesday murder, and second, are you the same person Thursday that you were on Tuesday and Wednesday?

8 Comments:

Blogger Russell said...

a quick question, how can you be sure the anmesia plea will work again?
as to what I think, I think you are guilty of the murder as long as the machine you used still exists, and if you destroy the machine, even then if someone found the remains there would still be doubt. The prosecution against you would argue that this has happened before and that you need to be institutionalized for the good of society.
Since your memory has been written back to what it was Sunday, an argument could be made by a 4-dimensionalist saying that your mental temporal part is the same as Sunday but your body temproal part is in Thursday since you have been aging and whatnot, so you have separated your temporal parts. You still have the same name I suppose, but you are conceivably not the EXACTLY same person at all.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Sam Lehman said...

The machine doesn't have anything to do with it, methinks. If your memory was erased, and "saved" at last Sunday, it is reasonable to believe that you would make the same decisions, commit to the same actions and think in a way identical to the person that was you up and through sunday. Furthermore, it seems reasonable to say that as soon as the temporary mental control and actions resulting occured, that those actions and the knowledge gained would affect your decision making, forcing/allowing you to make decisions inconsistent with the person you were on sunday.
Since the Wednesday murder was based upon knowledge gained through the actions of a person not the same as you are now (essentially, the person you were last sunday), you are not guilty of it. Furthermore, because you share NONE of the new experiences and therefore new mental configuration with the person who existed on Tuesday and Wednesday, you are not that person.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

it seems to me that if that were the case then he could just create the machine, then every time someone pissed him off enough then he could just go kill him and then wipe his memory to a point before that someone pissed him off, thus clearing him of not only the crime and the planning of the murder, but ever having known the victim. so if he had made the memory eraser for a different reason, and then proceded to use it in that way, i believe that him as a person still has the capability that if someone pissed him off enough for him to do that he would murder again, regardless if that person that he is after the memory wipe is responsible for the previous murder.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Josh Locker said...

To clarify a bit, after you make the machine and erase your memory, you have no recollection of having ever made it. You therefore have no reason to think that you could use it again since you don't even know it exists. Also suppose that only you know how it works and what it does, so if anyone else finds it they have no reason to connect it to you.

Also, the jury is only there to potentially punish you, and we can assume that the jury will make the same decisions based on the same evidence/testimony. As far as the question I posed, I am looking for a judgment call from you the reader (as opposed to the you in the story).

One thing I was trying to lead to was the following:
Suppose that Tuesday/Wednesday you is identical to Sunday you. Also suppose that Thursday you is identical to Sunday you. Then Thursday you must be identical to Tuesday/Wednesday you. Then it seems like Thursday you is responsible for the Wednesday murder. But, if that's true, then it seems like Tuesday you is responsible for the Monday spree. If you agree with that then I don't know how to proceed (I'll think about it), but if Tuesday you is responsible for the Monday murder, then the evil guy isn't. But the evil guy should be responsible. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

the you that committed the murder due to the evil guy isn't guilty. The guy that committed the murder of his own accord is guilty but, one question, does this change his personality? if yes then the erases memory guy is innocent, if it is the same personality sans memory then he is guilty.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Dan McCormick said...

There seems to be plenty of loopholes here, given that we can only prosecute someone who is reponsible for their actions and knows they did it. However, I've never agreed with this part of the law, and is one of our great weaknesses in the judicial system, and as mere mortals I suppose. However, this situation provides an opportunity to rectify our weaknesses of only neing able to act on the past.
Assuming we can prove your guilt, I don't think that it should matter whther or not you remember the crime, because clearly you are capable and willing to murder. I think incarcerating your body and your capable (if not knowing) mind is enough. This seems parallel to being responsible for rape if you are drunk.
So..uh..don't try anything, because I will see to it you are locked up.
-Dan

10:41 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Ok, I agree with Sam i think. Like, if his memory is restored to sunday, then he would still be the same person who wants to kill this man, despite of the memory machine. Just to prepose this view, determinism. Determinism says that everything is already planned through science, but since we will never probably fully understand the science behind it, then it appears we have free will. This would suggest that we actually do'nt have free will. I don't know if belive this, but I am suggesting it for the purpose of discussion. If we don't have free will, then he would have killed the man no matter what. Then he should be punished for the second murder cause he wanted to do it at the time. However, if we don't have free will, what does that say about our justice sysytem. If what we're going to do, for ex murder, is already planned out and determined by science, then can we be help responsible? what would that mean?

11:07 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Ok, I agree with Sam i think. Like, if his memory is restored to sunday, then he would still be the same person who wants to kill this man, despite of the memory machine. Just to prepose this view, determinism. Determinism says that everything is already planned through science, but since we will never probably fully understand the science behind it, then it appears we have free will. This would suggest that we actually do'nt have free will. I don't know if belive this, but I am suggesting it for the purpose of discussion. If we don't have free will, then he would have killed the man no matter what. Then he should be punished for the second murder cause he wanted to do it at the time. However, if we don't have free will, what does that say about our justice sysytem. If what we're going to do, for ex murder, is already planned out and determined by science, then can we be help responsible? what would that mean?

11:08 AM  

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