Ethical Moral Dilemma: Boat Rescue

Moral Dilemma Story

You have been in a trip in the ship for around two days when accident occurred. You all abandon the ship due to the severity of the damage. One boat is also damaged and water is coming through the hole trying to fill the boat. When you are ten on the boat, the boat can remain afloat as long as nine people are scooping out water with their hands while the remaining one person is resting for 10 minutes before replacing one person who will take turn to rest too before getting back to the job too.

Doing this so long as 5 hours does not elapse, will keep the boat from sinking until rescue operation commenced.

You are going to 10-minute rest when you realize there is a sound boat close by with 9 people onboard and one of them is your best friend. He calls you out to join them so that you don’t have to struggle in bailing out water.

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If you go and leave behind the rest of the people in damaged board, they will only sustain their effort to maximum of two hours which will in turn minimize their chances of survival before the rescue team arrive and in turn securing yours. This beg the question what will you do in this moral dilemma situation?

Kant’s Deontological Moral Theory

Kant asserts that the supreme principle of morality is an ideal of rationality which he referred to as “Categorical Imperative” (CI). Kant branded the CI as an unbiased, rationally essential and absolute principle therefore there is no option of not following CI even if there are natural desires which act in contrary to it.

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He characterizing it as

All explicit moral necessities, in regards to Kant, are acceptable by this principle, which means that all immoral deeds are illogical because they go against the CI. Other theorists, such as Hobbes, Locke and Aquinas, had also claimed that moral desires are centered on standards of rationality. Although, these ideals were either helpful principles of reasonableness for gratifying one’s needs or external rational principles that are discoverable by reason, as in Locke and Aquinas.

Kant found out that analysis of practical reason shows the necessity that rational agents should be in conformity with instrumental principles. Yet he also argued that conformity to the CI (a non-instrumental principle), and hence to moral requirements themselves, can nevertheless be shown to be essential to rational agency. This argument was based on his striking doctrine that a rational will must be regarded as autonomous, or free, in the sense of being the author of the law that binds it.

The CI is majorly based on the law of autonomous will. Thus, what mainly holds Kant’s moral philosophy is the idea of reason which is shown practically by the fact that human should not be bound “slavery” but be led by passion. Additionally, the existence of this reason that Kant found out that people are all equally and everyone deserve respect (Fieser, 2017).

He further argues that there are no resulting consequences that have fundamental moral worth because good will is the only good thing. Good will does its moral duty by choice freely which is dictated mainly by reason. Therefore, Good will when free will of a person which is purely as a result of reason.

Formulations of Kant’s Moral Principle

  • The Formula of the Law of Nature. states that your action should only be maxim by which you can at the same time hope that it results as a universal law.
  • The Formula of the End in itself. states that your action should be in such a way that it treats humanity well or in the person of any other, not just as means, but should be to the end (Fieser, 2017).

Using Kant’s Theory to Solve My Moral Dilemma Story

Kant in his theory argues that you must help those in need. In this situation, for every member to survive, there should be at 10 people to allow on to rest. Should I choose to leave the board, the rest of the 9 members will suffer from fatigue and they will drown before the recue help arrive. Using Kant’s theory, I will have to stay hoping for help to come.

Utilitarianism Theory

Utilitarianism is a normative moral theory which rely whether there right or wrong by the choice of action made over the other choice which could have be made. With this, it goes beyond the room of personal interests and take into considerations the interests of others (Nathanson, n.d.).

Act and Rule Utilitarianism

Principle of utility is applied to either a single action or general rules. Application on single action is called act-utilitarianism while on general rules is called rule-utilitarianism.


The principle of utility is applied directly to each substitute act in a state of choice. The right action is chosen as the one which give the best result or which carries the minimum bad outcomes.

  •  Disapprovals of this opinion is the strain in getting the whole knowledge and certainty of the results of our actions.
  •  It is probable to defend immoral actions by applying AU: what if you could bring to an end the war by torturing children whose fathers are hiding and are enemy soldiers.


The principle of utility is used to find out the rationality of guidelines of conduct which are the moral values. For example, a rule for promise keeping tries to analyze a world here people break promises and the world where promises are kept. Wrong or right are then derived from this area.

Using Utilitarianism Theory to Solve My Moral Dilemma Story

Utilitarianism theory argues that we should inclined with that object which it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness or to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered. Using this theory to solve my moral dilemma, I will have to leave the unsafe boat and join my friend. This is because I will have advantage and happiness at the same time avoiding pain, agony and unhappiness of eminent death should rescue operation not happen and the pain of bailing out water.

Difference Between Bentham’s Principle of Utility and John Stuart Mill Theory

Bentham’s Principle of Utility:

  1. Distinguishes the important role of pain and pleasure in human life,
  2. Favors or disapproves of deeds on the basing on the amount of pain or pleasure it brings.
  3. Good is equated to pleasure while pain is equated with evil.
  4. Asserts that pleasure and pain are capable of quantification thus they are measurable.

When measuring pain and pleasure, Bentham based using the following criteria: intensity, duration, certainty (or uncertainty), and its nearness (or farness). He also added ‘productiveness’. Also ist ‘purity’ which determine if pleasure will be followed by pain or the other way round.

John Stuart Mill

He twisted the pleasure-seeking inclinations in Bentham’s viewpoint by stressing out on:

  1. In utilitarianism it is not the measure of quantity of pleasure but the its quality that is of significance.
  2. Applying calculation is not reasonable. Qualities aren’t quantifiable thus there is difference between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’.
  3. Utilitarianism refers to ‘the Greatest Happiness Principle’ it tries to increase the capability being happy (higher pleasures) in many people (this is its ‘extent’).

Reference List

  1. Fieser, J. (2017). THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE. Retrieved from
  2. Nathanson, S. Utilitarianism, Act and Rule | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from

Cite this page

Ethical Moral Dilemma: Boat Rescue. (2021, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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