Murder? Attempted Murder? I Need Help On This One

From: A
Sent: Wednesday, February 24, 2016 11:55 PM
To: Walter Block
Subject: Murder question

Dear Walter,
A friend asked me this question. Any ideas?

Suppose you are traveling through the desert with just enough water to get to the other side. X wants to kill you and poisons your water in the middle of the night. A few minutes later, Y, who also wants to kill you, dumps the water, not knowing it was poisoned. You then die of dehydration. Who gets charged with murder?
Thanks a lot! A

Dear A:

X is guilty of attempted murder. He tried to murder you, but failed. You didn’t drink the poisoned water, due to Y’s act. Had you drunk it, X would have been guilty of murder. Y is guilty of murder. He poured out your water. Of course, had you drunk it, than, as I said, X would have been guilty of murder. On the other hand, Y did “save” you from drinking poisoned water, even though it was not an attempt to help you. So, he was also guilty of attempted murder? No. You’re dead. We can’t have two attempted murderers, X and Y, and no actual murder. Someone’s gotta be guilty of murder. I vote for Y.

An economist was once asked, “How’s you wife?” Came the answer, “Compared to what.” Your question is really a difficult one. If it were easy, you wouldn’t be asking me about it. So, I vote for Y, as murderer, even though it is not clear that he is in fact, actually a murderer. There is a strong case for calling Y, also, merely an attempted murderer. But, that would leave us with two attempted murderers, X and Y, and no actual murderer, which I think is highly problematic. So, my first vote is for Y as murderer. If, somehow, God got into this and rejected my analysis, I’d then vote for both X and Y as murderers, even though, a strong case can be made for considering not only Y, but also X, as merely attempted murderers.

Sorry, I can’t do better on this. I wish I could. But, the best way to deal with difficult challenges, I find, is to do the best you can, and hope that what you write will help someone else come up with a better answer. Maybe, without my imperfect attempt, this other person would not be able to definitively answer the question, and with it, he can. So, my attempt, imperfect as it is, will still be of help in getting that proverbial one millionth of an inch closer to the Truth.


7:20 pm on January 2, 2019