Moral reasoning is defined as “individual or collective practical reasoning about what, morally, one ought to do”. The theory introduces two moral principles: consequentialist principle, which determines an act’s morality by its consequences, and categorical principle, which assesses an act by looking at its certain duties and rights despite the outcomes. To some extent, these two principles seem to contradict each other, which may become obstacles for achieving reasonable actions. ‘The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens’ held by Lord Coleridge in 1884 is such a case. It evokes a moral question whether murderers in a particular dire circumstance should be regarded as against the law and morality or not. Regarding moral reasoning theories, two opposite points of view were raised. The following parts of the essay will analyse the case based on the mentioned moral philosophies as well as explain my personal attitude toward this issue. 2.
Facts of the Case and its Moral Issues
The case is about an English crew consisting of three seamen (Thomas Dudley, Edward Stephens and Brooks) and a cabin boy (Richard Parker) who were knocked down by the storm during their journey and had to drift on the ocean with little reserves of food and drink. After days of subsisting on such a handful of food, the crew faced the threat of starving to death. On the eighteenth day, Dudley came up with an idea of having someone sacrifice and that the victim was chosen by lottery, but was then turned down by Brooks. Dudley’s suggestion perhaps came from the purpose to help the other three survive. Regardless of the group’s dissent and a little initial hesitation, Dudley and Stephens eventually killed the boy, who was said to be in the poorest condition of four, on the next day to assure the rest’s survival. Such act of murder is normally considered both morally and legally intolerable but is still widely arguable in this situation. The three crewmen then fed on their crew-mate’s body and blood, subsisting for four more days before getting rescued by a vessel. The crewmen were taken to court and tried at Exeter on 6th November the same year. The trial was appealed and then settled by Lord Coleridge with the verdict stating that both Dudley and Stephens were found guilty of murder and faced capital punishment which was later commuted to six months’ imprisonment. This case raises not only legal but also moral issues. On one hand, the practice of depriving one’s life is morally unacceptable and merely regarded as inhuman. Therefore, the act of the crewmen was mostly believed to be against the law and morality since they committed a murder to a boy who possessed no resistibility at that time. On the other hand, the case is still put in a dispute. The controversial issue originates from the case’s unusual circumstance and the act’s “noble” motive. In such a situation when the crewmen confronted death, their motive for the murder apparently initiated from their survival chance. The fact is that the sacrifice of that boy, who had drunk seawater and was in the worst condition of all, could help the three men keep living for the next few days, increasing their opportunity to be rescued. 2.2.
Utilitarianism vs. Categorical Imperative
Stakeholders of the Case
In order to agree on a possible choice of action, we should take into consideration all the stakeholders to the case and their interests as well. The chief stakeholders of the case are the three crewmembers – Captain Dudley, the first maid Stephens and Brooks – who did commit the murder and survived after days drifting on the ocean. Their foremost interest when on boat was to find food to maintain survival as well as being lucky to be rescued. The second one is the cabin boy who was killed and fed on by the three crewmen without any previous assent. This victim of the case perhaps wanted fairness to be employed the most. The third stakeholder to be mentioned is the...
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