Accidental v. Random

Pretend, if you will, that you have a bird-eye view of the intersection of two rods. There is a stop sign at each corner. You have very good eyesight. You observe two cars approaching the intersection at the same speed. Each of the drivers drops a lit joint (marijuana cigarette) on the floor of their cars just before they enter the intersection. Neither driver sees the stop sign, as they both bend to pick up their respective joints just before coming to the intersection. They collide.

This, we call an accident, as neither driver intends to collide with another. Is this collision also random? Or is there a cause or causes?

I mean this as something less than an epistemological adventure, and more about our commonplace notions of common events. So here I am not using a paradigm wherein causation is impossible.

It is a traffic accident that has a cause. In this context there is no inconsistency by what is meant by “accident” and what we normally mean by “caused”. Perhaps you have a different idea of “cause” in mind, something akin to “intentionally brought about”.

If we know only the causes why one of the cars was at one place, but don’t know why the other car was at that same place, so we could not have predicted the collision, we say that was an accident. That does not, of course, mean that there were no causes for the collision. It means only we could not have predicted the collision with that information. And of course (as Nous points out) if we know the causes for both cars being at that place, but the causes were not intentions, we would also call that an accident.

Oh, roads. You did mean to say roads, didn’t you? I only mention this because I was busy Imagining rods in my head from a birds eye view, and when cars were introduced on said rods, I started wonder what it is I was on, right before everything went black.

Okay, seriously, what’s going on here? Aren’t accidents usually random? If they were not random, they wouldn’t be accidents, would they?

You mention causes. I’m sure if we assign causes, then yes, you’ll have causes, depending on your linguistic application, I guess. Oh, now I get it, this is a previous conversation with somebody.

If accidents were random, they would not have causes.
But accidents have causes.

Therefore, accidents are not random.

Causes are not “assigned” (whatever that means). Events either have causes, or they do not.

Nous -

I do not claim an inconsistency. I agree with what you are saying. I am merely setting out the problem carefully. “What problem?” you may ask. It’s a problem of terminology, that I have seen blossom into a philosophical problem. All too often.

As we have already seen in this thread.

Kenny - You’re overthinking this.

Stick to the example, please. We happen to know all the facts we need to know that it’s an accident. In the example, it’s an accident whether we know about one car or both cars.

sandy -

More than one. It’s a festering sore that’s been keeping me in unspeakable agony for years.

Perhaps I hyperbolise.

Not at all. That’s my point. Accidents have causes. People make their living finding the causes of accidents. Forensic investigators for insurance companies, for instance.

Yeah, this is only an issue within a paradigm of causation. Without that, those forensic investigators would be out of a job. Or their job would be ridiculously easy, I guess. They’d be bale to file the same report for each gig.

Then, why is it an accident if we know the causes for each car to be at the same place? Is it then, as I suggested, that among the causes, are not the intentions of the drivers, as Nous also suggests? Would you explain what makes the collision an accident if it is not ignorance of the causes, or that among the causes are not the drivers’ intentions?

It is an accident because the drivers did not intend to plow into one another.

However, the drivers did both intend to stop focusing on driving in order to bend over to pick up their respective joints, so it is still the intentions of the drivers (as well as a few other factors) that caused the accident.

That’s how most accidents are. Most accidents are the result of something that somebody intended to do, but in doing so, they missed/ignored/did not forsee the possibility of a negative effect of the same action coming into play. As a result, they did what they intended to do expecting a different result, in this example, both drivers reached over for their respective joints with the expected result being to pick the joints up and continue with their driving.

Simply put, an accident happens when a certain action is intended, but the action yields an unintended result.

haha, paradigm of causation. I make an obvious claim and you gently cradle me to the ground. You’re a good man, Faust.

But yeah, overall I see what you’re getting at; terminology and how easily confounding takes place. I just tried to play it out.

… and now for my next point of inquiry (I’m just fielding this. Anyone can take a shot at it): How are we understanding the term ‘random’?

Not very well.

I think you must also understand the term “accident”. defines an accident as: an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss. No where in the definition do we see the word random but we see the words undesirable and unintentionally. This does not mean it doesn’t have a cause it merely means that you didn’t mean or didn’t want it to happen.


Accidents can have causes. Accidental means unintentional. Pav covered this, but I’ll restate.

I don’t understand this sentence, but I’ll persevere.

Donut - one problem is that the word has several meanings. I think the one you cite is the most useful for philosophical purposes. Except that we can have happy accidents, as well.
The drivers intended to pick up the joints, as Pav states. But picking up the joints was not the accident. The collision was the accident. Even the drivers were not, once it happened, ignorant of the causes of the accident. They were, before it happened, ignorant that another car was on a collision course with them, that there was a stop sign, or perhaps even that they were coming to an intersection. But they were not forever ignorant of the causes.

sandy -

Yeah, I know. I believe I have played straight man for you, as well.

Your mind, as usual, races ahead of the rest. I will offer some notes.

Random, unlike “caused”, bear no relation to intention or accident. While we can include these words within a conversation about causation, we cannot meaningfully use them when we talk about randomnicitiness. Er, randomness.

When one of my waitresses says “I found this random guy last night and…”, she is speaking quite colloquially. You can “find” something that’s truly random.

Now, random, in QM, for instance, means “unpredictable” in the strict sense. But it doesn’t preclude probabilities, for what it’s worth. So, randomness can be formally understood, but not formally predicted. There’s nothing random about our accident. If it was random, we wouldn’t think any of the facts I presented were relevant.

I think I’ll see how this goes.

It is not all that difficult. It just says there there were causes for the collision, but that one of those causes was not that either of the drivers intended the collision. And, unless I am mistaken, that means that the collision was an accident because it was unintentional. See? Easy. Aren’t you glad you continued to try to understand?

Now, I never said that accident cannot have causes. Of course they can, and do, have causes. But, I did say that accidents need not have causes. There is a difference. And, if an event does not have a cause, or we do not know the cause of the event, we often also call it an “accident”. So, there are two sufficient reasons for calling an event an “accident”. 1. It is unintentional 2. It has no cause, or we do not know the cause. (When, and if, we know the cause, we will no longer call it an “accident”).

An accident must have a cause, otherwise it is not an accident, it is a random event. It is patently incorrect to describe anything as an accident until at least one cause can be determined.

You might well be right. But have you any reason to believe that?

The concept isn’t difficult. Your sentence structure leaves something to be desired.

You’re injecting intention in the wrong place, despite that you discount it.

I’m not that glad. You just don’t write well. No offense.

But yes, we call it an accident because it was unintended. Which was part of my original point.


So, tell me about an accident that doesn’t have a cause. Remembering that you have just agreed that what makes it an accident is the absence of intent, and not of cause.

Tell me about an accident that you know does not have a cause.

But we just agreed that my accident had a cause, and that we call it an accident rightly.

Are you paying attention to what you are saying at all?

Or are you just putting me on?

I think you’re just putting me on.

Well Faust, after looking at your bird’s eye view qualifier, I was wondering if at some point you were going to couple ‘effects’ with all things ‘causal.’

Right now, I’m still trying to figure out where I can apply the word ‘randomnicitiness.’ Pure gold.

You know, that could be considered an insult, in the wrong hands. Then again, it all depends on the people you read. Just too clever.

Next stop: Events.

sandy -

Hmmmm. I usually know about those rare occasions when I insult someone. Live and learn.

And there you go again. Rushing me. It’s not fair to Kenny, because you already know all the questions and all the answers.

What of my inscrutable crypticness? My dense obscureness? My excruciatingly sluggish exposition? Measured not in words or paragraphs, but in geological eras?

Okay, events. You go first.

Reason is my reason to believe that. :wink:

Oh sorry, completely my fault. Do carry on. I just can’t ruin this for Kenny. The ending is the best part.

Now back to your crypticness: Best stuff I’ve ever seen. I rarely see people who can pull off the crypticness of non-crypticness. Your in your face obscureness is unparalleled. I wouldn’t exactly look at your exposition as excruciatingly sluggish when you actually take an effort to stop and pick up people. Okay, I had nothing for geological eras but laughter.

Back to events: It just seems like your exposition was booby trapped. I doubt I can un-spring it and still leave you with something to work with. Actually, by the preceding events, I doubt there’s much worry of that. I kid (?)

I’m still looking at the built in assumption that comes with the definitions posited.