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Solving the Lifeboat Dilemma Essay

In the case presented, I believe there is no right thing to do but I am morally compelled to act upon the situation that confronts me. I choose to use my strength to throw someone overboard to save four lives, including my own. In asserting that there is no right thing to do, it is because in choosing either of the options presented, human life is sacrificed. It is a classic case of “damned if I do, damned if I don’t”. Whatever choice I make, I will end up doing the wrong thing. By choosing to use my strength to throw someone overboard and kill him, I am violating his right to life.

If I do nothing, I would be responsible for the deaths of five people. Although done without intention, throwing that one person overboard would be the only solution, all things considered, for upholding the greater good. In so doing, I am condemning myself to guilt and remorse as decisions that terminate lives are the most unbearable ones. From a strictly utilitarian point of view, I would be choosing the option that would account for “greater happiness for the greatest number of people,” happiness qualified in this case as survival (Greenspan 119).

Clearly, my choice is the lesser of two evils. In this case, although there is a moral dilemma presented, such a dilemma could be resolved because one obligation overrides the other in terms of the number of lives that could be saved. This is not similar to the phenomenon in Sophie’s Choice wherein Sophie is presented with two symmetrical obligations. In her case, she had to choose between her two daughters or condemn both to death.

In my case, I am not compelled with emotional attachments to any of those present in the lifeboat that would make my conflict incapable of deliberation. These people are strangers to me and so, the weight of the obligation can be measured in terms of how many lives I could save which in the greater scheme of things, purport to the more moral decision. Clearly, this decision would be criticized by many. Proponents of the doctrine of the double effect would view my decision as morally wrong and unjustifiable.

While the double effect reasoning may exculpate those who take action that has negative side-effects, when that action involves something deliberately intended in order to carry out a solution (in my case, using my power to throw someone overboard), it becomes wrong. Even if the cause (in order to save five people) is good, the fact that I did something harmful to bring about the cause would render the entire decision immoral (McConnell 412). Utilitarian opponents would also reject my notion of choosing the lesser of two evils.

Radical moralists would say that human lives are incommensurate, and sacrificing one in lieu of a greater number does not make it moral (Hill 215). Others would accuse me of being an ethical egoist for choosing personal survival above all else. Works Cited Greenspan, Patricia S. “Moral Dilemmas and Guilt. ” Philosophical Studies 43 (1983): 117-125. Hill, Thomas E. , Jr. “Moral Purity and the Lesser Evil. ” The Monist 66 (1983): 213-232. McConnell, Terrance. “Moral Dilemmas and Requiring the Impossible. ” Philosophical Studies 29 (1976): 409-413.


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