A Case of Win-Win by Graeme Hunter

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A Case of Win-Win

Graeme Hunter on Probability, Death & the Existence of God

There is a true story about a French widow of ninety who made an attractive real estate offer to a lawyer of forty-seven. He was to give her monthly payments of 2,500 francs (then roughly $500) until her death, in exchange for which she would bequeath to him her fashionable flat in the town of Arles. It looked like a win-win situation. The woman would be assured of a roof over her head and living expenses until death, and the lawyer would inherit a place worth far more than he would spend to acquire it. He would manage comfortably until then on his current earnings. It seemed probable that he would not have to wait long before coming into his inheritance.

Probability, however, is a fickle thing. It is probable that a woman of ninety has not long to live, but it is also probable that a woman who has already lived ninety years will keep right on living. As indeed happened in this case. Jeanne Calment lived to be the oldest person in the world, dying at 122 in 1997, outlasting André-François Raffray, the lawyer, by about one year. He paid for her upkeep to the end of his days and received nothing in return.

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Graeme Hunter is a contributing editor to Touchstone and Research Professor of Philosophy at Dominican University College in Ottawa. He is the author of Radical Protestantism in Spinoza's Thought (Ashgate).

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