To Stone a Stoner Who Stoned A Stoner? The Pale Horseman’s Quandary (A Logic Puzzle)

The pale horseman began to wring his arms for what felt like an entire Friday. As he stood speechless with the rock clenched in his right hand, my eyes turned toward the crowd. Surprisingly, they were no longer paying especial attention to the stoning. Some sort of meat and wine were being served on silver platters by men in robes. Soon, everyone was in on the feast—all except the three horsemen, the woman, and I.

Now, sensing intuitively that it was gauche to hold a picnic at a stoning, and since I was beginning to grow bored staring at a barbecue to which I wasn’t invited, I decided to address the pale horseman directly in an effort to keep the game moving.

***

White Horseman

It seems you have a difficult decision to make, my friend. I know what I would do in your shoes, but let’s see your move.

Pale Horseman

This thought experiment is like a game of chess from hell. There must be a rational choice whom to stone, but I’m cursed for having to make the choice at all, since whatever I do, I’ll be acting immorally from certain perspectives. I suppose the best I can do is try to decide whom it would be least immoral to stone.  But on top of this, I have to remember—if I stone someone for a second time, that person dies; so, in this rite, throwing a second stone is a more serious decision than throwing a first, which horribly complicates this great question.

You told me once before, Doctor Kimel, that anything which maximizes happiness through the channels of agency and learning should be valued over that which maximizes unhappiness through the channels of exploitation and ignorance. But how can I use this standard to make a decision in a case like this?

White Horseman 

I’ll give you a clue. Try thinking about your potential victims one by one…

Pale Horseman

There’s the horror of this game; I see no clear choice. But, let’s consider the scenario, and perhaps I’ll realize the correct answer.

The Woman: 1 hit (if I stone her again, she will die)

The Red Horseman: 1 hit (if I stone him again, he will die)

The Black Horseman: 0 hits (if I stone him, he will suffer)

The White Horseman: 0 hits (if I stone him, he will suffer)

White Horseman 

I would think twice before stoning me…

Pale Horseman

All that I can do is consider every choice.

The Woman: 1 hit (if I stone her again, she will die)

Many people believe in our sacred book and condemn adultery as an immoral act. But you’ve convinced me that we must appeal to reason rather than assertions that our Scripture is God’s Truth with a capital T, since all cultures believe that they’re correct when intuitions are concerned, but reason is universal. At the point that the woman might have been raped, and at the point that the law mistakenly assumes a rape in the city is unlikely, and at the point that premarital sex might not be a sin in the first place, there is not enough evidence to throw a second stone and kill this woman. I can’t bring myself to choose her—happiness would be destroyed with no clear proof of any benefits or justice.

The Red Horseman: 1 hit (if I stone him again, he will die)

The red horseman claimed he took a leap of faith and believed that he was acting morally when he threw the first stone at the woman. Now, even at the point that the woman might have been innocent, he’d be rational to throw a stone at her insofar as he was compelled to do so by his understanding of God’s will, since the woman’s trouble took place in the city, and the Law is the Law. Now, perhaps the Leap of Faith was insincere, but I have no way of accessing his inner truth. Perhaps he was too stupid to understand your arguments about appealing to logic when constructing a universal morality rather than asserting a singe book is intrinsically holy—but generally, we find those people who are stupid or ignorant to be less morally culpable than those who are wise and know the consequences of what they’re doing. I confess, perhaps he was too hasty when he made his decision. Perhaps he even deserved the black horseman’s rock in his face. But I can’t bring myself to kill him, at least, not yet.

The Black Horseman: 0 hits (if I stone him, he will suffer)

Now, stoning either you or The black horseman would provide a benefit insofar as I wouldn’t be required to kill anyone; after all, this would be either of your first hit with a stone, so I’d simply injure one of you. I realize the black horseman DID cause pain to the red horseman, who might deserve revenge on him. But I have to remember, he was required to throw a stone by the rules of this ritual—the black horseman was his most rational choice, since the red horseman caused pain to the woman, and there is evidence that he was either hasty, ignorant, or fanatical. He acted rationally…and he deserves  no pain. So I don’t know what to do.

White Horseman

I’ll give you a clue. Consider this–my turn is next, and I also must stone someone by the rules of this game.

Pale Horseman

Praise God! Now I understand. I mustn’t dare to stone you. Not only have you caused pain to no one, but YOU ARE NEXT TO THROW. If I threw my rock at you, you would be justified in throwing it back at me. Rationally, I can’t let this happen. And so, my choice is clear…

***

The pale horseman closed his eyes and threw his rock at the black horseman. “Injustice!” the black horseman cried as he fell to the ground bleeding and spitting.

All were deathly silent as I, the white horseman, prepared to make my move …

April 22-April 23

Next Chapter April 24


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