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 the weakest, and fed on him, and then waited to be rescued. Had they not be rescued sooner, this trend would probably have continued, killing off the weakest and feeding on him. In fact, these men did not know when they would be picked up. They could possibly have been picked up the next day, or possibly not have been picked up at all. If they were picked up the next day, all would be saved; Parker could have been treated, and be alive.
If they were not picked up at all, they would all have died anyway. Therefore, the killing of Parker would have been unnecessary, and hence not be morally justifiable. Being in Dudley’s shoes, I would not have killed Parker, or any one else for that matter and if in any case, some one died, be it Parker, or myself, or anyone else, the rest would have fed on him for survival, and that would become an issue of cannibalism, which will be discussed further later. Nonetheless, one can also see that these men were driven to desperation. Without killing someone, they might not have survived to be picked up and rescued and in fact died due to famine.
Moreover, there were no sign of hope that they were to be rescued any time soon. Probably driven by the fear of death, of losing their loved ones, they murdered Parker. By Bentham’s Utilitarianism, an action, in this case, a killing, is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness; not just the happiness of the performer of the action but also that of interest, even at the expense of others. In this case, the overall happiness would include the families of Dudley, Stephens and Brooks.
Parker on the other hand had no family – he was an orphan – and so would not have maximized the overall happiness if he was killed compared to if either Dudley, Stephens or Brooks were killed instead. Since I have already proven that the killing of Parker was intended murder in the previous paragraph, this shows that through the murder, Parker’s rights to live was deprived. He, being a young boy of seventeen, eighteen, would have his own aspirations and dreams and he was deprived of that right to live and fulfill those dreams, just because he was weaker than the other three men. Furthermore, he was not consulted at all about his death.
This will be discussed in the later paragrah. The rights of human beings therefore, are much more important than fulfilling the happiness of the stakeholders in this case, the family and friends of the men, the men themselves, the general public, and human right activists. In this situation, the four themselves would not want to die. For the three men, their families and friends would lose a loved one if any of them died. Assuming in those days, the father usually is the breadwinner of the family, losing him, would thus mean that the family would lose a source of income, and bread and butter on their table.
This may lead to the mother having to work, or in a more severe situation, the children may have to work as well. Moreover, having a father figure in the family is important for a home to be wholesome. Losing Parker, on the other hand, will not have such consequences as he being an orphan would not have any family. Friends may grieve for him assuming that he has other orphan friends who substitute as his ‘family’. Using Bentham’s Utilitarian principle, numbers do matter. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that Parker’s absence would not have a greater effect compared to losing the other three men assuming the three men had large families.
Furthermore, the general public might lose a productive member of society if any of the four died, assuming that if all were alive, they worked hard at what they did and contributed to society. However, as the case goes, Parker was murdered. Killing one may trigger future murders and having Dudley and Stephens alive may harm the society in future. Another group that would likely to be greatly affected by a murder would be the human rights activists. Losing the rights of to live is much more serious than losing a family member. Imagine that your rights were taken away from you.
You will be restricted in your every movement and not be able to freely express yourself. This produces a more severe problem. Hence, though Bentham’s Utilitarian moral principle is applicable, we should take into account the more severe problem that may arise in losing one’s rights. Hence, I would not have taken the life of Parker, or any one else’s life. Another issue would be that throughout the entire proceedings leading towards Parker’s murder was that Parker was not consulted at all and that he was unaware that he was going to be killed and consumed.
Nonetheless, assuming everyone, including Parker was made known that a lottery would be taking place, it could have been morally permissible. A lottery would be using the idea of fate, and that the chances of one being chosen or selected would be equal. Yet, the intention of the lottery in this case is for someone to sacrifice himself and therefore, there would be a kill, a murder or suicide, depending on whether the “chosen” one would be murdered or he decides to kill himself for the “greater good” respectively. A vote, on the other hand, could have been coerced, and thus also morally incorrect.
Hence, Taking Kant’s categorical moral principle into consideration, in the court of law, despite consent, both lottery and vote will lead to either a suicide or a murder, both of which are criminal offences and therefore, morally wrong. The intention of the act of cannibalism, in this case, was a means of survival. If the purpose of the act of cannibalism was not to survive but instead was to indulge, such as the Russian serial killer Anderi Chikatilo, who murdered at least 53 people between 1978 and 1990 then fed on them, it would not be morally permissible.
In fact, there were other similar cases of cannibalism, which arose due to famine and for survival. For example, in the 1972 air cash in the Andes, the members of the Uruguayan rugby team fed on the dead to stay alive. This is one of the many other cases where cannibalism was seen in during famine, dating back from 1609 during the Starving Time in colonial Jamestown to 1997 by North Korean refugees. In our case, cannibalism similarly, was of last resort and was used as a means to stay alive.
The act of cannibalism here, would thus be morally permissible, and hence, assuming Parker dies naturally, I, being Dudley, would feed on Parker, together with the other seamen, in hopes of staying alive. In conclusion, imagining that I was Captain Thomas Dudley, I would have waited till one died, which likely would be Parker given his health condition, and then fed on him, together with the other two seamen. I would not have taken up the choice to murder Parker, or anyone for that matter, by a vote, lottery, or even by asking Parker for his consent in his death.