Essay Sample on Applying Moral Principles to Lifeboat Dilemma

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1124 Words
Date:  2022-11-22

Ethical and moral dilemmas can be described as situations that require decisions that appear to be morally reprehensible. In these situations, making decisions is difficult, but they must be made for the good of those that are involved. This exercise is often concretizing the situation in the real world. An ethical and moral dilemma is useful as a manner of introspection as people can use them to reflect on their ethics and principles (Kettner, 2017). These problematic situations include the lifeboat dilemma where five people have to be tossed off the lifeboat for others to survive a storm.

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  • Ask for volunteers.
  • Choose people to be tossed adrift based on the utilitarian principle.

The Possible Objections to the Selection Criteria

Utilitarian Principle

The principle states that something is considered to be ethical or moral if the highest amount of good is obtained from the highest number of people. It determines the right or wrong action by focusing on the results.

Clarification of the Utilitarian Principle

The captain is responsible for the life or death of the lifeboat's passengers. Utilitarian approach is appropriate in making decisions for this challenging situation. This principle dictates that people should always work to produce the greatest benefits for the people that are affected by the actions (Liu, & Ditto, 2016). Utilitarianism principle mirrors the strive to do and achieve the highest amount of good and ensure the survival ability is of the people in society. Utilitarianism considers the consequences of the actions. In the lifeboat dilemma, the implications of the captain's actions include the resulting death of five people. The principle also recognizes the harm and benefits that result from the decisions and actions. The principle indicates that as human beings we should always consider the least harm and greatest benefits that are caused by an action. The principle also states that people's happiness is equal and no special consideration should be given to people.

In the lifeboat dilemma, the first decision for the captain to make is to ask for volunteers who will be tossed adrift for the survival of others. However, it is unlikely that people will even consider to volunteer themselves and if they can volunteer, it is unlikely to get five volunteers. Thus the captain may consider the potential for survival for the people on board. The captain may opt to choose strong people to remain who will help navigate through the storm. People with low survival potential will be tossed overboard. If children are part of the passengers, they can be given an opportunity as they have a lifetime to contribute to society.

The Criteria for Selection Using the Utilitarian Principle.

In deciding the procedures to be used captain may choose to ask for volunteers. If the volunteers are not enough to account for the number of people required to be tossed overboard, the captain should opt for the survival potential and the contribution of the people in society. In this scenario where a strong storm is fast approaching, the decision to choose who is to be thrown out can be hard to make. The captain must choose to throw out the oldest in the lifeboat. The old people are more likely absorbing the resources that could otherwise be used to save other people. The captain should opt to choose the smartest and strongest if they have to survive the storm. The decision to choose those who will be thrown overboard will be based on values. The captain must decide whether they will be chosen either through democracy or dictatorship. If the captain does not make a decision, then the captain will have chosen that all the 30 passengers perish. The decision to let all the passengers die is not optimal.

Possible Objections

Moral principles are often used to analyze and solve moral dilemmas. Considerations are however made on consequentialism, but the principles frameworks have limitations. In these difficult situations sometimes it is not always easy to determine the best consequence and judge the best principle whenever they conflict. Sometimes the framework does not allow or take into consideration of the emotions. In consideration of the motivations, relationships and emotional sensitivities which are unique to the human society thus providing an analysis that promotes flexibility and creation of solutions that consequentialism and principlism only.

Virtue ethics are flexible and can access different situations individually. Thus, searching for action guidance and consideration of what a person is supposed to do. The virtue ethics are fostered by ethical sensitivities and facts of the existing circumstance. These circumstances will allow for the creation of ethics to problems that are otherwise hard to solve and could be hard to solve when rules and principles are in the application.


From and ethical perspective, any moral problem or situation ought to be solved by the function of personal virtues. In the lifeboat dilemma the most virtuous person is given an opportunity to live and those with the least virtues don't get the equal opportunity to live. Ethical perspective can be used in these situation as it is impartial, virtue is independent of emotions. However, the virtue is influenced by lack of clear and concise definitions and subjectively judgmental. Determination of virtues can be wide thus proving to be difficult to choose the virtues that can be used to make judgement on who to be tossed adrift. In this situation contribution to the survival would be used to determine who has to survive (Huang, 2016). Those people that would contribute less to survival of others during the storm could be thrown to the ocean. This is similar to utilitarianism as the people that could contribute to the survival of the other crew members during the storm are saved.

The theory of knowledge is manifested in the world through ethical and moral dilemmas and how the knowledge can be applied to achieve benefits. The captain must rely on knowledge and common sense to gain an understanding on the situation before hand. The ways that the captain will be knowing has a critical effect on the judgement and the interpretation of the situation.

In the these lifeboat case there is no right thing to act on, however, morally the captain will be compelled to make a decision on the situation confronting him. Although throwing people overboard is not right it is however morally appropriate if the other passengers have to survive. The radical moralists consider live to be incommensurate and sacrificing five passengers for the survival of other is not moral.


Liu, B. S., & Ditto, P. H. (2016). Moral Coherence and Political Conflict. In Social Psychology of Political Polarization (pp. 112-132). Routledge.

Huang, B. I. (2016). Law and Moral Dilemmas.

Kettner, M. (2017). Three Dilemmas in Applied Ethics. In Public Reason and Applied Ethics (pp. 109-118). Routledge.

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