Queen V Dudley and Stephens

Topics: Morality, Ethics, Immanuel Kant Pages: 5 (1946 words) Published: March 21, 2011
There are many possibilities and options I could have taken if I were in Dudley’s shoes. Murder Parker, and feed on him; ask for Parker’s consent to kill and consume him; take a vote, or a lottery and then feed on the selected one, assuming there was consensus to the vote or lottery and to its outcome. However, if I had a choice, there would have been no murder, but perhaps an act of cannibalism, if say the boy, Parker, died naturally. Using Kant’s categorical imperative, I believe that murder, in any way, aside from self-defense, is morally wrong.

Kant’s categorical imperative refers to the “supreme principle of morality” whereby it is morally essential that we adhere to this principle in all circumstances, independent of whether or not consequentially, it brings about more or less happiness. This principle is deduced from two maxims, one about objectivity and the other pertaining to respect for all persons. The maxim of objectivity shows that the morality of an act is determined independent of the factors that may otherwise result in a different consequence. Thus not taking into account the dire situation, murder would be a violation of the common human moral values. The other maxim regarding respecting others says that an act is right if it treats others “as ends in themselves” and not as a “means to an end”. Killing Parker would thus be a means to an end, exploiting him, and not treating him with respect, would be treating him not as an end in himself. Not treating him with respect would thus be disregarding his right to live, which was what Captain Dudley did. Both maxims will thus prove Kant’s first formulation that we all have a perfect duty not to murder i.e. the act of murder will be morally wrong.

Moreover, based on Kant’s quote, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant 1993:30), it shows that if there is an uniform decision made by every person, the act would be seen as morally correct so long as it does not contain any logical contradictions. In other words, since the same decision to murder will not be made by every person, the act of murder would not been seen as morally right. Therefore, we should not commit murder.

The principle of self-preservation, prompts every man to save his own life in preference to that of another whereby one must inevitably perish. Under identical circumstances, the principle of self-preservation and the desire to survive would have been much stronger than usual. Therefore, if there was a need to kill Parker, given he was in weaker condition, and that he was likely to have died before the others, Dudley and the other two seamen, the intention to kill was probably to survive and not murder. However, showing no remorse for his own actions by referring to feeding on Parker as “breakfast”, despite the prayer he made before he made the kill, will thus show that perhaps Dudley was tempted, at the very least, to kill Parker. Hence, in one aspect, proving that despite the very strong need of self-preservation, this necessity to survive was not a strong enough an argument to prove that the murder was morally justifiable and therefore, again as the act itself shows, murder, is morally wrong.

The law states that the only time when one, acting upon his own judgment, takes the life of another is only justified on the grounds of self-defence. To further prove that Dudley and Stephens were guilty of murder, we have to prove that this killing of Parker was not on the grounds of self-defence. In this case, Parker was already weak, with no strength to make any resistance against the two, hence made no attempt to hurt either one of them or both. Since both Dudley and Stephens were not attacked in any way, their killing of Parker cannot be justified to be self-defence. In fact, it was the stronger killing the weaker, showing no signs of sympathy for the weak Parker who was on the verge of dying. They killed off...
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