July 6th, 2010
Intro to Philosophy
The Strange Case of the Speluncean Explorers
This prompt poses many moral questions. My immediate, intuitive response was that the four defendants were guilty of the crime of Roger Whetmore’s murderer. If you look at the question as simply and literally, “Did they willfully take the life of another?,” the only possible answer is yes. However, the circumstances surrounding this problem were extreme, and that forces one to consider other factors in the problem.
As a Judge on the Highest Court of the land, I would be required to give the defendants a completely fair trial. “Innocent until proven guilty” does not apply in a traditional sense here, for they do not need to be proven guilty; all four involved in the crime have clearly and repeatedly admitted that they killed Roger Whetmore in order to eat his flesh, hoping to survive until they were able to escape or be rescued from the confines of the cave. The real question at the heart of this issue is, “How does one define guilty?”
Whetmore was the one who had initially suggested that they resort to cannibalism in order to bring about the group’s survival. He was the one who rallied everyone to understand the then-present necessity of eating the flesh of another human being. He convinced them that it was for the greater good of the group. Whetmore went even so far to say that even the victim had reason to be grateful, for he would die a quick death, avoiding the phlegmatic fate that would come from their imminent starvation. In fact, he said that he himself would prefer to be killed rather than starve to death.
In this, he made a verbal contract with his fellow explorers, and through his idea, gave them hope of survival. This is why it came as such a sudden and painful shock when, at the the very last minute, he changed his mind and told everyone to wait yet another week; the defendant’s minds were already set on his previous idea and they had already begun to mentally prepare themselves for the gruesome, but necessary, task. Changing his mind, when he had previously been so adamant about his first argument made the rest of the party question his trust. Why should they listen to him now? Would he change his mind again? Is he just scared that he would be the unlucky one? Their mental state was one of primal excitement and expectation: it had been many weeks since the explorers had last eaten an adequate meal. Does carrying on with the initial plan truly make the defendants guilty?
Prior to the radio running out of battery life, Whetmore suggested the idea cannibalism to the physicians, along with everyone else listening on the other side of the radio. He asked for moral guidance and practical advice; he wanted them to tell him if he was making the right and proper choice to ensure the survival of the group of stranded explorers. Present there was, in fact, the Secretary of the society (who was also a justice of peace) who decided to stay quiet when Whetmore suggested killing one their members in order to eat their flesh for sustainment. Although the Secretary did not give his express permission, he certainly did not voice opposition to the idea. I do not think that it is fair nor just that when the trapped asked for moral advice, none was given, and upon their return to civilization, they were immediately arrested and considered murderers. I find it to be extremely hypocritical for authority to sit back and not say anything when called upon for counsel, presumably in fear of being considered an “accomplice.”
One of dominant players in this case is that the woman who Whetmore convinced to pull out with him at the last minute. She followed Roger’s every move; she was persuaded to agree to the cannibalism in the first case, but was just as easily swayed to “wait another week” upon Whetmore’s urging. The case portrayed the woman and Whetmore as if they would agree on every issue and almost as if they acted as one unit....