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Morality and Knife Design

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by BlueRabbit, Sep 5, 2014.

  1. Chris Larrikin

    Chris Larrikin

    Jul 19, 2012
    I think that's an important consideration in some circumstances. I've thought quite a lot about knife designs which could be used for self-defense but would be sub par for most offensive purposes. I think this could be a great challenge for the moral manufacturer. While I think we can acknowledge that any knife/tool/piece of furniture can be employed as an offensive weapon for use in the commission of crime, wouldn't it be great if a maker made a knife which could be used for self-defense but which would at the same time be less effective than a chair leg or tent peg for offense? Obviously it would require a lot of research into how violent crimes are committed, how knives are employed etc; a bit of playing the statistics. I think that would be a great test of the moral measure - of course it's probably not economically viable :)
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2014
  2. fugglesby


    Mar 16, 2013
    Some really great responses.
    I'll start by saying that I disagree with the notions raised that sheepsfoot blade can only be seen as a reduction of function over a more tactical or violence oriented design. For example on a larger fixed blade, a sharpened upper edge leaves you with a less user friendly knife for the majority of tasks. A finger can't be pushed against the spine for stability and the ability to baton well is completely lost as the upper half of the knife will bite into the baton. The thinner point is also more liable to snap off when chopping. Ultimately, it's just a different focus on functionality. However, even if functionality was greatly reduced and a knife was created which couldn't cut anything but carrots for example, as long as the knife cut carrots as good as anything else available, then to a person who cuts carrots all day it's an amazing tool. The loss of unnecessary functionality isn't noticed as it doesn't affect the user. Many have said that Elegance in design is a product that does what it needs to and not a fraction more. I disagree, but a lot of people smarter than me believe it. I think that elegance is when you end up with a solution which has a high ratio of functional or aesthetic value to overall complexity.

    An aristotle quote on bladeforums? did not expect to run into that today. I feel like I'm about to go really in depth on some design theory stuff here and I really want to keep my responses approachable so we'll see how that turns out. In relation to the effects of a knife beyond cutting or to further broaden the theme, the values of an object outside of functionality, up until the 80's the only other option was aesthetics. However since that time, there's been a huge surge in the significance of semiotics or the imbedded meanings and ideas in objects. This isn't necessarily entirely separate to the aesthetic response to an object, as the aesthetic response is not purely a visual one, but an instantaneous emotional response as well. If you see a beautifully painted portrait of a man strangling a child then it may well be technically and visually beautiful, but the messages inside it and the emotions they illicit are far from beautiful. The aesthetic response taps into symbols, alludes to prior cultures and mythologies and functions as a reflection of the person who actually responds to the object.

    The big change in current design thinking is essentially that function isn't actually as important when designing a knife or object compared to semiotics. Very few buying decisions are rational. When I go to the store and buy milk I buy the cheapest milk because they all taste the same to me and it saves me money. That's a rational decision. But does that ever happen with knives? Even with something like an opinel, a high value, high performance knife, the decision to purcahse one isn't rational, it isn't about getting the most bang for your buck it's an emotional decision for the most part where you are intrigued by the interesting locking collar and handle design and are reminded of the history of the knife, the town where they are from (savoie), france itself, french food and wine and culture, peasant life, carbon steel etc. You respond to all these fragments of information and it overrides the rational parts of your brain. YOu don't buy it because you need it, you buy it because you want it. If the semiotic aspect is powerful enough then you'll buy it because you love it.

    Some of the boutique players in the knife world are very clued up on this. Himalayan imports bless their blades with blood before shipment. The knives function the same and look the same but you now that something special happened to them, brings up images of ghurkas and hindu culture and the himalyas and it fills you with wonder. Base Camp X use paint made from the river that runs next to the owners log cabin to paint their axe handles. You can't tell, it's all water. But it gives a connection to place to what is otherwise just an axe. That's very powerful. And it can be misused. This is constantly used to entice consumers to pay high prices when incorporated into branding, where the brain justifies the lack of material value with the wealth of emotional value. However, this increased emotional connection with an object also can do wonders for ensuring that the product isn't seen as disposable, it has emotional value, it is loved and it can't just be replaced. It means a lot to the owner and that (in theory) stops them from buying another one or a replacement which reduced consumption, leads to a more enriching user experience and saves resources and space in landfill.

    This brings me to the sheepsfoot vs tanto example that is at the crux of this entire thread. Apart from easing the designer's guilt, the choice to make a sheepsfoot blade might be the result of a calculated decision to add it for semiotic reasons. The sheepsfoot has history with rescue knives, as a benign tool and with the navy. If there's a buyer out there who sees knives as purely tools and hates their violent facets, then this will connect with their own moral systems. This leads to a happier customer who gets to use a knife that they think embodies what a knife should be, while also hitting a market that otherwise would have been left unaddressed. Everybody wins. In the same way that a sheepsfoot blade alienates tactical knife lovers and loses you marketability, making a hardcore tactical blade does the same thing (though less in today's knife culture climate).

    So what do you think? Is the use of semiotics in branding and in knife design a great way to make people love their knives or is it overt manipulation? At what point does this pushing of your psychological buttons stop being beneficial to the user and start being exploitative?
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2014
  3. fugglesby


    Mar 16, 2013
    A very interesting concept! I'll make sure to give it a think over the next few days and drop it off here if anything comes up.
    As far as precedents go, you have specialty vege choppers


    Safe box cutters


    But these are hardly knives at all. I think the best result to date I think is the Newpoint kitchen knife. This takes the issue of stabbign deaths related to kitchen knives and attempts to solve it while retaining as much functionality (precision tip cutting capability) as possible.

  4. cbach8tw

    cbach8tw Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 9, 2006
    Just had to add my 2 cents. I think there is nothing wrong with form following function, means business for what it is designed to do. That being said, I still think a knife can still be aesthetically pleasing to the eye as well, and by that I do not mean just in the fancy materials such as Damascus and mosaic pins, etc, which certainly do add to the overall beauty of a knife, but there is something romantic, if you will, about clean lines, excellent workmanship, the fit and shape of the handle and the knowledge that a craftsman with the knowledge, talent and dedication used them to create such an item. And then to transfer all that creativity to make the user just say "WOW, that is so cool!!" It gives me great satisfaction to know that there are talented people out there who can create such great knives. It is more than just the business, and we do need to support those individuals, it is a lot of fun owning and using a well crafted knife. It is not really morality and knife design, but appreciating fine workmanship.
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2014
  5. sirupatespecial


    Oct 16, 2013
    I have a 5" blade custom knife that I bought from the maker. He called it a "frontier fighter". During deer season it is the one you will find on my hip. I'm not planning on killing a deer or a person with it. Although it would do the job just fine....never occurred to me.

    Just make what you like...or preferably what your customers like. I think you're overthinking things a little.
  6. East Branch Knives

    East Branch Knives KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 5, 2014
    I think at least that much is clear.

    I think this demonstrates why this thread is pretty interesting. The first statement, as many have pointed out, seems true enough. Yet, a knife can also look "vicious" and "evil-looking" and have features with names like a "skull kruncher." And so the object, inanimate and thus obviously not moral or immoral by itself, was at least designed to evoke thoughts or emotions that may be very closely related to the end-user's ideas about morality and violence. I don't think it's unreasonable to attempt to design knives that avoid the "skull-kruncher" end of the knife use spectrum.

    You just made my day, Roadracer_Al! Well done, sir.
  7. JNewell


    Nov 18, 2005
    With a few exceptions that are probably obvious - or rather usually ridiculous - I think this is the right answer and the right path. If the design is for something that addresses some safety issue, like the veggie slicers shown above, design for the use, not for some unilateral view of morality.

    And, as a big by the way, it's my opinion that freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and other "fundamental" human rights are second-tier rights, of secondary importance. The most fundamental, bedrock human right is the right to be free from violence against your person and your family, and part of that right is the right to defend yourself and those for whom you are responsible. Anyone who would deprive you of that right has crossed a very fundamental moral line. :thumbdn: In other words, don't take my pointy knives away. :grumpy:
  8. syco1138


    Jan 8, 2014

    In regards to the bit about the end users ideas about morality and violence, my personal thoughts on the topic are that violence is not inherently immoral and that, like most other things it's a tool, a means to a end, and that, a punk cutting someone up with a sheepsfoot blade is immoral, however a bystander with a "evil" blacked out tanto with a built in knuckle guard and skull kruncher, killing the punk before his victim is killed is moral. It depends on the situation, and the intent of the user. The design of the knife I carry has very little with my view on violence.

    However my opinion on knives that are specifically designed for violence such as the Chaos, Civilian and innumerable others was summed up by Sun Tzu
    “To rely on rustics and not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues.” ~ Sun Tzu
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2014
  9. Jens Schuetz

    Jens Schuetz

    Jun 24, 2013
    Nobody beat on my "oh so deadly" matriarch. It's the best mushroom knife I ever had.
  10. East Branch Knives

    East Branch Knives KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 5, 2014
    I agree 100%
  11. RedLynx

    RedLynx Basic Member Basic Member

    Aug 5, 2011
    While there isn't anything wrong with that, it doesn't make knives not named "skull-cruncher" (sorry, just couldn't do the whole intentional misspelling thing) or the makers who avoid them in any way inherently more moral.

    This is indeed an interesting discussion, but people are getting hung up on some fallacious things here.
  12. The cow

    The cow

    Jul 3, 2014
    "Morality" factors in a knife when people try to legislate blades. It always ends up in laws that make little to no sense.
    Look at European laws, some countries basically say that only moral knife to carry is a 2 inch thumbnail opening knife...and you best not defend yourself with that either.

    Now, in my experience is that combat, utility, and survival blades all can cross over into each other's territory to some degree. But at the end of the day, very few people actually have any training and experience with knife fighting so any design benefit of a combat blade isn't fully realized. Its why you see the survival and EDC designs dominate the industry.
  13. RedLynx

    RedLynx Basic Member Basic Member

    Aug 5, 2011
    True. As a society we of course have to have some general guidelines as to what morals are, for the benefit of all, and these will vary from society of society. While necessary to a degree, it is, almost always taken a few degrees too far, sadly. I don't know that there's any getting around it, since you can trust most people most of the time, but you can't trust some people any time.

    My issue comes when a society has decided that you must, at all times and without exception, put your well-being in the hands of this collective, often faceless other, and if you do try to entrust yourself with it, you'll get in trouble for it. It shouldn't be that way. I say this knowing fully well that the "other," the "government" is almost certainly better at protecting me than I am myself. I'm a fit younger man, but also a disabled man with poor balance and an inability to run. It would be almost suicidal for me to be in any sort of confrontation, even a defensive one. Sometimes I have to remind myself a 9 year old girl could probably beat me up if she wanted to. And take my ice cream. It's a sobering thought for a young man in these modern times but it's true in my case. And yet, I still believe any one of us should feel like we can take care of ourselves without a wrist slap or worse.

    I hate to start my Saturday afternoon sounding like some raving idiot and it feels like I'm coming off that way, or starting to, so I'll quick while I am ahead. :p
  14. syco1138


    Jan 8, 2014
    Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, "The price of freedom is the willingness to do sudden battle anywhere, any time and with utter recklessness." -Robert A. Heinlein

    Also a somber reminder of our own inadequacies and that society can be a huge Charlie Foxtrot sometimes.
  15. RedLynx

    RedLynx Basic Member Basic Member

    Aug 5, 2011
    Thanks for that. I enjoy Heinlein but strangely had never heard that one before. I like it.
  16. MassMatt


    Apr 2, 2006
    Interesting thread.

    IMO a greater moral/ethical area comes in how you conduct your business--look how many makers wind up taking $ for knives they don't deliver, or screw suppliers. Or fail to honor warranties, or lie about the blade steel.
  17. slg98

    slg98 Cove Dweller Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2013

    ^^^^^ What he said^^^^

  18. ellipticus


    Jan 21, 2013
    Every knife is both a weapon and a tool. One cannot have one without the other.
    I would say once you decide to make a knife, regardless of the design, you have already made your "moral" choice.
    How someone uses your knife is not your responsibility.
    All you can do is promote your knives as tools and leave it at that.
  19. syco1138


    Jan 8, 2014
    I think the posters intent was to analyze the morality of knives such as the Civilian which were designed with intent to be used as weapons, as opposed to knives that are intended to be tools first.
  20. Chris Larrikin

    Chris Larrikin

    Jul 19, 2012
    I actually think the Civilian in particular is one of those knives better suited to defense than offense. My understanding is it's designed to be easily used by anyone in a near last-ditch environment; the Spyderco website specifies LEOs who can't carry a firearm and don't have formal self-defense training. Its lack of a strong stabbing point may limit its offensive use, and would certainly limit repeated limited use. The other big factor is price; how many meth addicts who want to rob you at knife point could afford to own one? No, the crooks are more likely to go with a supermarket kitchen knife. For me this one comes close to nailing the "morality" of the self-defense knife; purpose-driven design, takes the user into account, well constructed from quality materials and (potentially) not specifically useful as an offensive weapon.

    I think this thread is getting more interesting. Hopefully we can keep it from becoming a "knife rights" thread which will be relegated to a perpetual circular spin in the Political forum :) There is certainly overlap but I think there is definitely a strong argument for a continued design discussion.
    For the OP - is this useful? I'm genuinely interested and would like to know more about what you think about what's being said.

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