The Mexican Standoff--now aka The Three-way Stand Your Ground--and moral logic

This was just posted on a web site some nice Doper (thanks, whoever you are!) turned me on to:

Suppose we agree that everyone has a right to life, but that a person forfeits this right when he threatens the life of another — in that case it’s permissible to kill him.

Now consider three people, A, B, and C. A aims a gun at B, B aims a gun at C, and C aims a gun at A.

The cite contains the source for this set-up with just a little more info about a solution.

However, can someone work this out and place it within some sort of logical context? And, if possible, tell me if any of those wily ancient Greeks looked into this scenario?
(So, try not to look at the cite first…:))
Also, anyone knows why it’s “Mexican?”

Haven’t looked at the cite yet so it’s hard to tell from the description what the situation is. Was it a simultaneous decision by three people to all shoot each other?

The cite simply presumes that the three-way set up exists without explaining how it got started. Without knowing who, if anyone, initiated aggression, there’s no way to distinguish the moral culpability of the actors.

Okay, assuming that you’re describing the events in sequence…

A forfeits, by aiming a gun at B in a situation where nobody else is aiming guns.

B is now under threat, and would be justified in aiming back at A an entering a two-person standoff. However, he chooses to aim at C, who isn’t aiming at anybody, and thus B forfeits as well.

Now; A’s forfeit was to aim at B, and B has since forfeited his right to life. You can make the argument that this restores A’s right to life; he’s now essentially protecting C by aiming his gun at B. If we take this precedent, though, the mexican standoff will enter some sort of Schrodinger event horizon as soon as C completes it, though; with all three participants switching back and forth from innocent to guilty as quickly as moral logic flows through the triangle. :smiley:

Thus, I choose to say that having forfeited, you don’t get your right to life back because the person you’re aiming at forfeits theirs. A and B are guilty, C remains innocent. Anybody want to argue the case?

It’s just a variation of the classic paper-rock-scissors triangle (i.e. all can beat another and be beaten by a third).

I don’t know what you are trying to resolve. By your rules any or all of them may shoot because they’ve all threatened the life of another.

Minimal research shows that the origin of ‘Mexican Standoff’ is unclear.

If you need to pull a gun, you start shooting. There’s no time or opportunity for pithy Bon Mots while everyone has a gun pointed at everyone else’s head.

Delta Farce: “Here, we just call it a standoff.”

If you haven’t seen the College Humor video about Mexican Standoffs, I highly recommend it.

I don’t know that this is going to yield much in the way of factual information, so let’s move it over to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

I think we can simplify by dispensing with permissibility.

A person a right to life iff they threaten no one else’s right to life.

Assume A,B,C threaten each others lives (but not necessarily their right to life) as above. Assume C has a right to life. But this means B does not have a right to life (because B threatens the right of C). Thus A does have a right to life (because A does not threaten a right). Thus C does not have a right to life (because C threatens the right of A). Contradiction. And similarly if we assume C does not have a right to life we end up with a contradiction.

The point of the example is to demonstrate that a given account of rights is wrong.

A wins. A is Blondie, who knows that C (Tuco) has an unloaded weapon. B (Angel Eyes) dies when Blondie shoots him.


And thanks to Colibri for moving this thread so I could post that. It was causing me physical pain to refrain.

I think this is right (as crazy as the scenario is). A and B are initial aggressors and thus have a duty to retreat before using self defense, but even then the duty assumes initial non-deadly aggression that leads to deadly aggression. IOW, you can’t point a gun at a convenience store clerk’s face, and when he pulls out his own gun, you claim self-defense. It doesn’t and never works like that.

A and B will not be privileged to use self defense, but because C has seemingly done nothing wrong, he may stand his ground and meet force with force.

I believe the ancient philosopher Tarantino pondered it extensively.

I think it’s an extremely reductive treatment of the logic and the “paradox” doesn’t reflect the legal reality of the situation. I don’t think “forfeit” is really a good description of what’s going on. Everybody has the right to life at all times during the standoff; what they’re privileged to do about it flows from that assumption. So maybe there is no way to resolve it “under the rules we’ve laid out,” but why lay those rules out?

If we fast forward in time to a point where each is already pointing a gun at the other (presumably with the actual imminent intent to use it, otherwise the scenario has no teeth because they should all put their fucking guns down!), then we’re at fault for constructing an impossible scenario. The question in the real world is how’d we get to that point? The setup implicitly recognizes this, but doesn’t rely on it for the solution. Earlier posts have pointed this out, too.

The other problem with the notion of a “forfeit,” though, is this idea that there’s a transitive effect taking place, where C can’t defend B against A because B is aiming at C and has thus forfeited his right to be defended. It’s not like a light goes off above B’s head and it’s open season on him; this becomes obvious if you think about what the analysis would be if B simply turned and pointed at A instead of C. The “forfeit,” like I said above, is actually just a reflection of the threat to another person’s life that B would be presenting. Any right to defense B has, or lack thereof, would have to be related only to the threat against B, and inversely any right to defense against B is only related to the threat presented by B. The idea that B’s threatening of C cancels out B’s right not to be killed by A is flawed; they’re separate transactions, so to speak. It’s a bizarre and unrealistic situation, but if it did happen, where A was threatening B and B was entirely unrelatedly threatening C, there wouldn’t be some catch-all forfeit that applied to B such that B couldn’t defend himself against A. And if B could defend himself against A, then C could defend B against A… setting aside the question of why would C.

The origin of the term “Mexican stand-off” is almost certainly a short story from 1876 in which the writer tells of being in Mexico and befriended by a Mexican national who rides along with him for two days, and then demands his money. When the writer ask for pity, the Mexican says “O.K.–just give me your money.” His plan was to kill the writer. The Mexcan says “We’ll call it a stand-off. A Mexican stand–off. You lose your money, but you save your life.”

Ok, but that’s not what a Mexican standoff is. Maybe the Mexican was out sick from bandit school the day they taught that.

It’s what the phrase started out life as.

You know what you are, Blondie? You’re nothing but a no good son of a (cue GBU music). :slight_smile: Great flick.