A sinking ship with only a lifeboat that can save a limited number of passengers with a looming windstorm in view, presents an ethical decision making crisis where I, as the captain, has to make a split-second decision and choose who is going to sacrifice for the other 5 passengers who are to be cast adrift. Obviously, everyone loves life and one would shudder at anything or situation that may deprive them of even a second of it. However, in some exceptional scenarios or rather dilemmas such as this that I am faced with, making a decision, an ethical one for that matter, may seemingly be a pipedream. However, logical reasoning can prove to be leverage that will enable anybody in such a dire situation to act prudently in his best interest and/or that of others. In view of the aforementioned, this paper is going to table arguments from a philosophical point of view and will support or reject some of the decisions based on the philosophical principles used. The Kantian Ethics, Utilitarianism and others like the natural rights theories, the Principle of Beneficence and Autonomy will be instrumental in informing the decision that I will settle on as the ship’s captain.
Kantian Ethics vis a vis Utilitarianism
The proponents of utilitarianism posit that an action is considered morally right as long as its consequence(s) promote the greatest happiness or pleasure relative to what may have been lost. In other words, the morality of an action is contingent on the outcome it will produce and one will consider that action over another since it maximizes on overall utility (happiness, wellbeing, welfare). (Bykvist, 2010)
On the other hand, Kantian Ethics, courtesy of Immanuel Kant, is founded under the principle of the Categorical Imperative. According to Kant, Categorical Imperative can be explained by various but equivalent ways. One way is the Universal Law Formula which holds that an individual who acts immorally proposes that everybody else should abide by set rules but they themselves are an exception. The other way is the Principle of Humanity which conjures that whatever action we take, we must always treat everyone, ourselves included, as ends and never as means. (Wood, 2008)Therefore, as a captain of the sinking ship, I will base my actions on the following aspects in the light of the various principles that will be utilized in this paper: Passenger’s Strength, Volunteers, Age and Gender of the passengers (ladies, mothers, and children, and Employed passengers.