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The Toxin Puzzle

Uploaded by lancej13 on Oct 26, 2011

This paper discusses Gregory Kavka’s psychological problem, the “Toxin Puzzle,” from various viewpoints. (8.5 pages; 3 sources; MLA citation style)

I Introduction

Paradoxes and puzzles seem necessary to human beings; it’s as if we need the challenge presented by something we can’t solve—or by something that has many solutions—to keep our minds active. Sometimes these puzzles are pure theory; sometimes, they can be seen to have a more practical application.
This paper discusses Gregory Kavka’s paradox, which is known as the “Toxin Puzzle.” It discusses what sort of puzzle is presented by this story; why the resolution of the puzzle is interesting from the viewpoint of practical rationality; Bratman’s solution; why it does or does not work; and whether or not the puzzle has a moral or point.

II The Toxin Puzzle

The Toxin Puzzle is a “thought experiment.” Suppose that there were a device that could measure intent. Of course no such machine exists, but suppose there were a very gifted person who understood others so well that she could predict, with uncanny accuracy, what they would do in any given situation. She is right so often that we might call her perfect in her ability to predict. She can thus tell us when someone intends to do something.
Now suppose that she offers someone $1 million to drink a disgusting toxin the following afternoon. The toxin will make the person dreadfully sick for 24 hours, but the effects are neither permanently harmful nor life-threatening. In other words, the person will be sick as a dog for one day, but there will be no further ill effects; and the person will be $1 million richer.
But that isn’t all of the puzzle. If it were, it would be simple: do you want the money enough to be that sick? That comes down to a simple choice: it’s worth it, or it’s not. But Kavka added another dimension. Suppose, he said, that it’s not actually necessary for the person to drink the toxin to receive the money; all he or she need do is to clearly intend, at midnight the day before, to drink the toxin the following afternoon. This intent is what our gifted person can sense.
What was a clear choice has now become a difficult problem, because we have introduced the element of intent into the mix. It’s...

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Uploaded by:   lancej13

Date:   10/26/2011

Category:   Psychology

Length:   9 pages (2,005 words)

Views:   1590

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