Moral dilemmas

I was at Virgin and saw a book of 101 moral dilemmas.  I thought it was interesting but decided not to buy the book, here is an example of a moral dilemma.  More examples here.

The Overcrowded Lifeboat

In 1842, a ship struck an iceberg and more than 30 survivors were crowded into a lifeboat intended to hold 7. As a storm threatened, it became obvious that the lifeboat would have to be lightened if anyone were to survive. The captain reasoned that the right thing to do in this situation was to force some individuals to go over the side and drown. Such an action, he reasoned, was not unjust to those thrown overboard, for they would have drowned anyway. If he did nothing, however, he would be responsible for the deaths of those whom he could have saved. Some people opposed the captain’s decision. They claimed that if nothing were done and everyone died as a result, no one would be responsible for these deaths. On the other hand, if the captain attempted to save some, he could do so only by killing others and their deaths would be his responsibility; this would be worse than doing nothing and letting all die. The captain rejected this reasoning. Since the only possibility for rescue required great efforts of rowing, the captain decided that the weakest would have to be sacrificed. In this situation it would be absurd, he thought, to decide by drawing lots who should be thrown overboard. As it turned out, after days of hard rowing, the survivors were rescued and the captain was tried for his action. If you had been on the jury, how would you have decided?

Personally, I have been thinking about it for hours and I can’t decide. On one hand he did save some people but on the other he did so by killing others. What do you think?


  • At 2008.12.11 14:39, insomniac said:

    i loved those dilemmas!!

    back in freshman year, we had a course called “ethics in the workplace”, it was a business oriented philosophy class… every class, we’d discuss an ethical concept and see how it would be applied and how it would be flawed in some cases, it was my favorite class back then….

    i actually remember we had a similar case…

    u know… i think in any similar case, he who would believe one (or many) should be sacrificed to save the rest, should start by agreeing to sacrifice his own life… if he/she does it, it would sound more credible to the rest; after all, credibility is such an important thing when it comes to suggesting solutions in times of crisis!

    so the question is, had the captain gotten really tired, or injured, would he be ok with jumping off the boat, or he’s just good as preaching??

    i like this post :))

    • At 2008.12.11 14:48, jessyz said:

      You are so right, but the problem is what if the captain is the only one who knows how to navigate or how to at least keep then in the right direction. Wouldn’t his life be worth more? In theory all lives should be of equal value right? But in a case like this you would have to stop and think. If it didn’t matter then I guess he should have sacrificed himself to encourage others and convince them of his logic. Maybe in a similar situation I would rather keep everyone together and keep trying.
      المساواه في الظلم عدل
      SO it would either be that everyone survives or no one survives. Again this might not be the best solution. To me these questions have no absolute “right” answer, no matter which one you choose there is something wrong with it.

      • At 2008.12.11 15:52, Abdallah Haj Abed said:

        I can’t really decide because, if he took action and had thrown people of the life boat he is killing them but if he had left all of them on the boat he would have killed all of them including him. And if I say throw people off the boat I would be an animal. But I think that saving acouple of lives is better than none and the people knew that the life boat can only hold a certain amount. But now even the bigger dilemma is, who gets to stay and who gets to die. Many people would say women and children first but why, men and old people are human too. But I guess a random thing would be the best thing to do. And then we see the hardest part, would people really jump off the boat? are people that fair that they would simply jump off a boat? or is it in this case the survival of the fittest? Can you bear to jump of a boat knowing that your going to die if you do, and can you bear to see someone left in the middle of the see looking back at you just floating in the middle of the blue? So the throwing people off is the right choice but its impossible. And now I think I’ve changed my mind to all should stay!

        • At 2008.12.11 16:27, jessyz said:

          Another problem is if you keep the women and children they might not be strong enough to row and might not survive anyways. Seriously, we could debate this all day long and no matter what you think is right we can find a way to make it wrong.

          • At 2008.12.11 18:17, gjoez said:

            Ya Rab mat7atesh fel mawqef dah abadan! T
            You know what? When I was younger, I would imagine many what=ifs situations in which I would have to choose between for example family members. It was really stupid and mentally exhausting.

            Anyways, I dont know what to think, but I think that sacrificing some for the sake of the others sounds the less insane thing to be done. The problem lies in choosing those. And yes, I agree with inso, the captain should have volunteered to jump.. 😀

            • At 2008.12.11 18:17, Abdallah Haj Abed said:

              I HAVE THE SOLUTION. not really but seriously if I was the captain I would jump off, so that I wouldn’t make a choice but as I said before if I was a person on the boat and the captain needed my advice I would say risk it and everyone stays!
              great post 😛

              • At 2008.12.11 22:46, Juka said:

                The flaw with his logic is he doesn’t have an accurate estimation of the minimum sacrifice that ensures everyone makes it home safely. So he probably sacrificed one or two too many. I also don’t like how he chose who had to go. It should have been a random draw, his name a possibility.

                • At 2008.12.13 11:24, jessyz said:

                  @gjoez: yes it would be so difficult if family members were included. I’d rather jump myself than pick who to push.
                  @Abdallah Haj Abed: I think that might be a good idea too.
                  @Juka: that might be fair too.