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Ethical Dilemma: The Over-Crowded Lifeboat

  Author:  60792  Category:(Discussion) Created:(7/23/2007 8:46:00 PM)
This post has been Viewed (10834 times)

This should be fun, yes? OK I took introduction to ethics last semester and we had to think about ethical dilemma every class. The one we altered the most was the overcrowded lifeboat dilemma. I'm always curious as to how other people choose to answer, so I bring it to you. The dilemma:

A boat is sinking and the lifeboat only can seat 20 people, but there are 22 passengers, yourself included. Who gets on the lifeboat and how do you choose? Who should be sacrificed? Should the Captain always go down with the ship?

Now, before you start to reply, take this into account. The water is too cold for someone to 'hang onto the side'. A person needs to be out of the water and drying off without being re-submerged to survive. Plus, hanging onto the side while rowing to some destination wouldn't work either. One cannot swim to shore, they would die before they made it halfway. Nor could you fit more than 20 people in the lifeboat or it will sink. No ifs, ands, or buts. Those are just the facts and you cannot question them or you miss the point of the exercise.

the point in ethical dilemma exercises is to decide based on the choices you have. You cannot make up other possible choices, they do not exist and nothing else is possible. They are designed so that you are forced to challenge your morals and make a decision on "what would you do."

Now, give your answer.

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Replies:      
Date: 7/23/2007 9:18:00 PM  From Authorid: 47218    I disagree with the premise of this exercise. I've long felt that it's unethical-- and impossible!-- to rank the value of people. The ranking for everyone in such a situation outside of children would best be determined randomly-- e.g. by drawing straws.  
Date: 7/23/2007 9:20:00 PM  ( From Author ) From Authorid: 60792    surprising as it is, a common answer in my class was 'everyone dies to be fair'.  
Date: 7/23/2007 9:21:00 PM  From Authorid: 30093    If it's impossible to rank people, why then should children get priority?  
Date: 7/23/2007 9:27:00 PM  From Authorid: 47218    The people that draw the straws need to have the mental capacity of an adult to understand the decision that they are partaking in.  
Date: 7/23/2007 9:30:00 PM  From Authorid: 47218    VK, that would be the Kantian solution. But something seems a bit off about sacrificing everyone for the sake of an ethical principle, don't you think?  
Date: 7/23/2007 9:40:00 PM  ( From Author ) From Authorid: 60792    I didn't agree with it, but I guess it seemed to be an 'easy way out' when you are looking at something but not making a solution to something that was real or happening to you.  
Date: 7/23/2007 9:41:00 PM  ( From Author ) From Authorid: 60792    but I suppose since Kant was one of the people we studied, someone had to give that answer. meh.  
Date: 7/23/2007 9:46:00 PM  From Authorid: 15394    I did this exercise with a group (it was a seminar), only we each were in a circle and we had popsicle sticks, and only six of them. We were to go to each person and stand in front of them and state whether they lived or died.. We would give a stick to the one we wanted to live and we would tell the others "So and so, you die"... This was one of the hardest games I had to play, and I totally disconnected from it (or so I thought)... By the way there were 80 or so people total and we only had six sticks to give away... ultimately I learned two things from it... One was that I did not hang on to a stick for myself! I apparently didn't value myself enough to try and get into the boat!! Second, I thought I had disconnected from the process, but it was awfully hard for me to tell 74 people "You die"... I was apparently quite emotional, but I didn't realize it!! After the "game" when we were discussing it in small groups, my group members said that I was crying!!! I had no idea... interesting exercise, and for the record, I choose to get in the boat...   
Date: 7/23/2007 9:46:00 PM  From Authorid: 47218    It's also way too rigid. Basically, you're saying it's unethical for a couple people to sacrifice themselves so that the majority can survive. Extended-- this makes any situation where there are sacrifices unethical. For example-- wars. Following this logic, if we were attacked by another country, the ethical thing would be to just sit here and do nothing and allow the other country to overtake and destroy us, rather than send out some soldiers to fight them and possibly be killed. meh. Reductio ad absurdum.  
Date: 7/23/2007 9:49:00 PM  From Authorid: 47218    Jung, imagine if this were a real-life situation-- looking two people in the eye and telling them that their lives are less valuable than 20 other people. uh-uh. It ain't happening.  
Date: 7/23/2007 9:54:00 PM  ( From Author ) From Authorid: 60792    when faced with the exercise, I always sacrificed myself. Perhaps it was just to relieve the guilt of having to kill someone else. I do agree that the basic idea of it is absurd, in the situation...there could be other ways around it. But it was so hard in the class cause there was never an easy way around it. It was interesting to hear other peoples decisions though. You could tell who thought too much, and who thought very little.  
Date: 7/23/2007 9:56:00 PM  ( Admin )   If there were no other considerations then like needing people to row the boat or use their intelligence to save the people then. All a person could do is decide for themselves what they themselves would do. Myself, I would not get on the boat. I would not vote for against others.
Date: 7/23/2007 10:04:00 PM  From Authorid: 63194    Because there is no room for what ifs, either everyone dies, or its completely unethical  
Date: 7/23/2007 10:10:00 PM  From Authorid: 30093    Everyone dying makes it more ethical than two dying?  
Date: 7/23/2007 10:27:00 PM  From Authorid: 4995    I got a four year old. I'd make sure she was in the boat and me too. That would be my first *albeit selfish* priority...CP.  
Date: 7/23/2007 10:29:00 PM  From Authorid: 15394    an interesting side note to my above comment: One woman in the group had five children, she got more sticks than anyone else out of 80... lots of people thought that she should be on that boat...  
Date: 7/23/2007 11:13:00 PM  From Authorid: 28190    I'd be one to probably sacrifice myself, though it would be very hard. Only thing that really makes it hard for me to give a definite answer, is I wouldn't want to leave my child. However, if it came to only one more seat left, and deciding whether my son lives, or I live, then my child would be on that boat, no if's and's or but's. I'd definitely sacrifice myself to make sure he would be ok. When it comes to a whole group of people, is when I question what I would do. Probably still though, would sacrifice myself, because that's just the way I am, and also maybe a little like you, in that I wouldn't want to feel the guilt of deciding someone else over myself. *hugs*  
Date: 7/24/2007 1:19:00 AM  From Authorid: 15070    My answer is so clinical, and what some would feel is "cold-hearted", that I will choose not to offer it at this time.  
Date: 7/24/2007 1:24:00 AM  From Authorid: 15070    No-I guess I'll say it. I could do what I needed to do to make sure that me & mine are saved. Then the last two will be offered the option of how they wish to die. Quickly, like of a broken neck, or if they wish to drowned. I see no honor in everyone dying, and I am not willing to be noble and remain behind. It's not that I fear Death, but I am too much of a survivor/warrior now. *shrugs* A hateful, but honest answer, I am afraid.  
Date: 7/24/2007 1:31:00 AM  From Authorid: 15070    How would I choose? I would try to let the others choose, but if necessary, I would choose the weakest/sickest/or least useful to remain. I know how hard-hearted I sound. But hopefully such a horrible situation will never arise.  
Date: 7/24/2007 2:57:00 AM  From Authorid: 21867    ...I'd be one of the two to die, the last person can either volunteer themselves also, or be select through some random method. Like SC I also do not fear death...though I'd do most anything to ensure the survival of mine, I wouldn't to ensure my own if it meant innocents had to die so that I may live...way I see it we're all born to die, and I see few better ways to do that than through answering the call to sacrifice for others when the call comes...such as this scenario.  
Date: 7/24/2007 6:36:00 AM  From Authorid: 2030    Well, six shots in a revolver, so I'd say 16 of us are getting on that boat with extra water and provisions.  
Date: 7/24/2007 9:59:00 AM  From Authorid: 63194    Well- you have to look at it like this. We feel bad for the elderly. But say there were a couple of elderly who were 75 years old on the boat. They have lived thier lives... so should the young 20 somethings who have a life ahead of them to live sacrifice themselves for the older people? Or should those who have lived thier life end theirs and let the young ones live theirs?  
Date: 7/24/2007 11:38:00 AM  From Authorid: 59876    i had a teacher in high school that used to do one of these darn near every day. i thought it was awful and honestly, pointless. i'd much rather stick my head in the sand and wait for that day to never come, because hey, it just isn't that likely i'll ever be faced with a situation that calls for this type of determination, adn if i ever am, you know, chances are, it will be a split second decision anyway, and then it'll be up to me and god to sort it out and deal with the consequences. honestly, whenever someone presents me with this crap in real time, and you'd be suprised how often, i just want to slap em. telling me stuff like, if there was a nuclear war, and you were dying, but your child isn't, what to do with your child? or, the house is flooded, leave the dogs behind, it is all you can do and the right thing to do, not in my world, sorry. and until that time comes, until this wickedness presents itself, i don't even want to go there. it goes against my very grain to pick and choose like that, known and loved or stranger, i'll take the sand every time until necessity indicates otherwise.  
Date: 7/24/2007 11:39:00 AM  From Authorid: 59876    and i never thought this was fun, but if ya'll do, have at it and have fun   
Date: 7/24/2007 11:40:00 AM  From Authorid: 59876    what if the 75 year old was wise and the 20 year old was an alcoholic dunderhead?  
Date: 7/24/2007 11:41:00 AM  From Authorid: 63194    i would say that the 20 year old was like most other 20 year olds... and I would want him/her to live so that they could learn and have experiences of thier own.  
Date: 7/24/2007 11:45:00 AM  ( From Author ) From Authorid: 60792    well when you take a class called 'introduction to ethics' these kinds of things are common. I would suggest you never take such a class then Doheney   
Date: 7/24/2007 11:47:00 AM  From Authorid: 59876    no problem, i have not intention of ever doing so.  
Date: 7/24/2007 11:48:00 AM  From Authorid: 63194    I take an ethics class in the fall. I will get so mad if I have to present an unethical question as ethical, lol.  
Date: 7/24/2007 11:48:00 AM  From Authorid: 63194    It's not intro though... I hope that doesn't make it harder!  
Date: 7/24/2007 1:52:00 PM  From Authorid: 53284    My logic would work like this. You need people to row the boat so you can't throw out your younger healthy males and females. Fat people could survive longer than skinny people if you get to food rationing they stand a better chance of surviving. Young people should have a preference over old people because the young havn't led as long a life. Old people have had a long life already so they should be the first to volunteer to not get on the boat. So, if push comes to shove, I'd say that the skinny old people would be the ones voted off.  

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