Posted: September 23rd, 2015
Life Boat Case: After a shipwreck, you find yourself in a lifeboat that is meant to hold 50 people. There is enough room for only 50—any more and the boat will eventually sink. There are currently 75 people on the boat—men, women, children, old and young people, rich and poor, passengers and crewmembers. There are, in addition, another 100 people in the water around the boat. No other lifeboats are available, and since the ship sank in a remote area, the chances of a rescue any time soon are pretty poor. Because of your courage, intelligence, and experience in ethics, the people in the boat and in the water have agreed that you should be the one to make any decisions necessary— including whether to make some people leave the boat, and if so who; whether to allow anyone in the water into the boat, etc. Notice that the people in the water will drown if you do not allow them in the boat. On the other hand, unless you keep the number of people in the boat to 50 or less, they will all drown as well. Notice also, that if you choose not to make any decisions, neither will anyone else, so the people in the water and the people on the boat (including you) will drown.
In your essay, please address the following:
1) Explain what a Moral Relativist would say you should do in this case and why.
2) Explain how an Ethical Egoist would answer the dilemma and why (feel free to use one or more example from our textbook and class notes).
3) Explain what a Mill-style Utilitarian would say you should do and why.
4) Briefly explain each theory and how it would lead one to a particular conclusion. If it “depends,”
explain what it depends on.
5) What is your view of how to resolve the dilemma? What is the right thing to do and why? Is one of the above ethical approaches is closest to your own? Explain why you think your approach is the best by using good moral reasoning.
Note: while this is not a “research” paper, it is an argumentative and moral philosophical essay. This means you need to have an introduction that clearly states your thesis, and your paper should have a clear flow of argument to defend this thesis with good moral philosophical reasoning. In short, don’t simply answer the prompting questions above. Use those as a guide. Figure out your view first, and then develop your paper around that. Any view you reject should also be backed by reasons. Close with a conclusion, and be sure to cite any sources you use (including class notes & textbook).
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