The Strange Case of the Speluncean Explorers
Katie Rush 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.
Only $13.90 / page
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.
Although she said that she didn’t want to partake in the drawing of lots, or the cannablism as a whole, she carried on, following the group, and partook of Roger Whetmore’s flesh after his murder. This is strong evidence that disproves the opposing theory that Whetmore and the woman pulled out of the initial agreement because of any moral opposition to cannibalism. Therefore, this leads me to conclude that the only real reason that they so suddenly changed their minds about killing one for the good of the majority is the fear that one of them would end up being the unfortunate one to have the unlucky roll of the dice.
The “Trolley Case” is, on the surface, an entirely different scenario, but the two cases share several common themes and motifs. Both issues play to the moral question, “Is the ultimate ethical goal to save the most lives possible? ” When asked about the first incident in the trolley problem (pulling the lever to move the trolley and kill one workman instead of five workmen), I was one of the twenty-five percent that said I would not pull it. In this particular case, you are not directly involved in the situation, and I believe that you do not have the power to decide which set of lives is more valuable.
Some people argued that one is “actively making a choice by remaining inactive, by not making a choice,” or that “through not involving yourself, one is involving yourself. ” But if you pulled the lever to save the five workmen and take the life of the one workman, you are taking away the one workman’s free will, and are “playing God. ” Another sufficient difference in the Trolley Case is the important issue of timing. In this case, you do not truly have time to rationally consider all possibilities, and the decision of whether or not to pull the lever is “spur of the moment,” and completely reliant on animal instinct.
In the Speluncean explorers case, the other members of the exploration group did have time to rationally and carefully consider their every choice. An additional difference is the circumstances, and the state of mind that the explorers were in when they committed the killing. In the Trolley problem, presumably, as the conductor, you are of sound mind at the time of the decision. In the Speluncean explorers case, on the other hand, it had been quite a few weeks since the group had last eaten and, at that time, one might start to look at everything in animalistic terms.
They no longer saw their fellow explorers as friends or partners, but as possible fuel and means to survive. The Queen versus Dudley case is almost identical to the Speluncean explorers case; the primary difference is that in the Queen versus Dudley case, the cabin boy murdered for the sustenance of the majority was completely and entirely innocent. He had no prior knowledge or warning of the situation and had no idea that he could be killed; in other words, he was completely unaware of his impending doom and by no means brought about his own death.
Conversely, in the Speluncean explorers case, Roger Whetmore not only was the most informed about the situation at all times, he was the one who had suggested the idea of partaking in the act of cannibalism in the first place. I do not think that the killing of Roger Whetmore and the consumption of his cadaver was entirely just, but I do think that it was excusable in a moral sense, considering all of the given circumstances. If there were particular changes and variations in the case, then the outcome (just versus unjust; excusable versus inexcusable) would directly vary.
For example, had the idea of cannibalism had not been Roger’s idea in the first place, and he had opposed the consumption of human flesh from the beginning, he could have taken himself out of the drawing of lots without the consequence of the other explorers questioning his trustworthiness and capacity for follow-through. Another possible scenario is that when Roger suddenly backed out, he might have said he wanted to renege on the idea of cannibalism altogether, instead of just saying he wanted to wait another week.
If Whetmore had done this sudden about-face mainly because the act of cannibalism went against his morals and value systems, this would have shown that his virtues overpowered his primitive hunger and his inherent desire for self-preservation. However, Roger contested by saying that he simply wanted to wait one more week to draw lots, proving that he was simply panicked that there was a twenty percent probability that his name would be called and he would wind up being the one sacrificed. This cowardly behavior shows that Whetmore breached trust.
Although there are innumerable facets of this problem that affect the outcome and, ultimately, the judgment of the actions of the four surviving explorers, I feel that it is safe to say that they should not be held culpable for the death of Whetmore. The loss of human life, in any number, is not to be trivialized, but nor should the weight and importance that a leader’s decision carries. Roger Whetmore acting, essentially, as leader of the group, made a decision that was to lead to the survival of the rest of the explorers. Then, backing out of this choice for selfish reasons, he put the safety of the entire group in jeopardy.
In this, he largely brought about his own tragic fate. His murder, as unfortunate as it was, can be justified when all of the circumstances are taken into account. In the evaluation of this case, one must be careful not to judge simply through the processing of numbers and figures in terms of human life; they must be cautious to consider important factors such as free will, the pertinence of the acting leader’s decisions, and the necessity of faithful follow-through. All of these factors are vital to the process of making an appropriately quantitative and qualitative assessment of this case.