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Ethical Dilemma (Essay #3)
PHIL 3020
Mr. Borowsky
Assigned Tuesday, October 21st

one of the following topics and write an essay of approximately 750 words, which
discusses whether the action by one person is ethically justified (cases 1 and
2) or how you would act in a situation that would require you to choose between
two actions (case 3).

In addition to the questions in each topic, you will
also need to include some discussion of different approaches to the problem,
and their relevance to the dilemma (deontological, consequentialist, Rawlsian
ethics, virtues ethics, equity).

is one method of approaching the topics, to use as a way of writing a first

1. What
information is relevant? Irrelevant?

2. Given
the situation, which party bears which responsibility? Why?

3. What
are these responsibilities or obligations in this case? (Here, you might use
deontological and consequentialist ethics as guiding principles in answering
this question.)

4. Having
answered these questions, draft and revise your essay.

5. Having
reviewed these five steps, write your answer.

Ground rules (review all from class):

1. Preserve the
hypothetical situation
. Remember that ethical
dilemmas always involve moral failure. In other words, by fulfilling one moral
obligation, you fail to fulfill the other. So, do not neutralize the question
by saying that you would (see topics below) check to see if there were other
candidates for surgery or another route to get out of the cave. A choice is

2. Legal obligations do
not create moral obligations
. You are not a detective;
you are not trying to determine whether a crime has been committed. You want to
know what kind of moral obligation should be fulfilled instead of another.

The Case of the William Brown

1842, the American ship William Brown left Liverpool headed to Philadelphia,
with eighty passengers, mostly poor Scot and Irish immigrants. After hitting an
iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland, eighty passengers and crew attempted to
load themselves into the two boats attached to the ship. Of these, fifty survived. Many of those that
sank with the ship were children.

rescue effort did not go well either. In the nineteenth century, ships carried
boats with them, which in an emergency, functioned as lifeboats. But they were
actually different kind of boats. In this case, the ship had two kinds: a longboat
and a jolly boat.

longboat could carry 30 passengers and was equipped to pass through high,
powerful waves. The jolly boat, like others, was much smaller and held only
eight. But unlike jolly boats on other ships, this one had sails, and the
passengers aboard quickly came across a ship to rescue them.

longboat was not as lucky. It was
overloaded with passengers and leaking badly. Soon, the ship was on the verge
of sinking. One of the sailors called to lighten the load. In response, two sailors, Alexander Holmes
and another, forced twelve passengers off the side of the longboat—including
two women who may have volunteered to join their husbands. The next day, two
more men were thrown into the sea.

Alexander Holmes justified in his actions?

2. The
Case of the Five Spelunkers

Five spelunkers—or more simply, cave
explorers—are trapped inside a cave following a landslide. The danger of future
landslides prevents all rescue efforts. However, the spelunkers are able to
make radio contact with the rescue team aboveground. As the days pass, food is
running low, and as the explorers discovered shortly after the landslide, there
is no source of nutrition within the cave. Twenty days after the cave-in, members
of the rescue team inform the explorers that it will take ten more days to
reach them. Medical experts aboveground confirm that, under the circumstances, ten
more days without food would mean that starvation would be likely if not

One of the cavers, Whetmore, spoke
into the radio equipment, and cautiously asked the medical experts an
unsettling question: “Wouldn’t it be possible to survive these ten days if
we—how shall I put this—choose one of us to be eaten?” The medical experts
reluctantly confirm this to be the case. Goshen, another caver, asks whether it would
be best to draw lots to select a person to be killed and eaten. No one aboveground
is willing to answer this question. At that point, radio contact is
subsequently lost.

Once the cave-in is cleared, it is
discovered that only four cavers have survived; Whetmore had been killed and
eaten by the others. The survivors state that Whetmore had originally come up
with the ideas of cannibalism and choosing the victim through random chance,
offering a pair of dice in his possession. Whoever rolled the lowest was chosen
as the victim. A tie was settled by another toss of the dice.

However, before the dice were thrown,
Whetmore allegedly expressed a wish to withdraw from the arrangement. He suggested that the party wait another week
before the party made the terrible mistake of killing one person and committing
the others to a shocking crime. But the others refused to accept his change of
mind, and threw the dice on his behalf. The survivors claim that Whetmore
conceded that the dice were thrown fairly. He is subsequently killed and eaten.

Following their rescue and recovery,
the survivors are charged with the murder of Whetmore.

Answer these two related questions:

First, from a moral standpoint, rather than a legal one, are the surviving
cavers guilty of murder? Why or why not?

Second, was it right for the other to hold Whetmore to the original agreement,
to pick the first victim by a roll of dice? Was it within Whetmore’s rights to
withdraw from the agreement? What it right for the other cavers to roll the
dice for him?

3. You’ll remember the handout I
posted on ethical problems for class. One of them proposed a Rawlsian system of
grading, in which the teacher would take a certain number of points from
higher-performing students and give them to lower-performing students, provided
1) that the higher performing students did not lose any part of their letter
grade for the essay or exam and 2) that the lower-performing students would, at
a maximum, receive no more points than it would take to raise their grade above

Do you think this is a fair way to grade exams or essays if it only helps the
lower-performing students in the class? If not, why not and please state why
Rawlsian ethics should not apply in this case.

Is there another fair way to help lower-performing students by changing only
the grading system? Propose a change to the traditional system of grading that
would be relatively fair to all students and distribute grades in such a way to
help lower-performing students.

Here’s what was written in the

IV. Grading the Final
Exam (Fairness and Virtue)

Once again, Mr. Borowsky is busy designing a memorable final exam for the
students of PHIL 3020. He doesn’t like to give out bad grades, so he is
thinking of trying out a new grading system.

Under this system, Mr. Borowsky may skim points from one student’s final exam
grade and give them to another, provided that the points given to
one student enable the student to pass (with a score of 60 or above) and the
points deducted from the other student do not affect his or her grade. The
following table is an example of how this might work:

Original Transferred
Grade Points Grade
Student 1 92 (A) -2 90 (A)
Student 2 88 (B+) -2 86 (B+)

Student 3 57 (F+) +4
61 (D)

What are the advantages or disadvantages to this system? Is it fair? Is it
right? Why or why not?

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