Blog – The Lifeboat


The following is from a presentation I gave at the Hong Kong Philosophy Cafe recently on the subject of moral obligation…

“Right,’ said Roger, the self-appointed captain of the lifeboat, ‘There are twelve of us on this vessel, which is great, because it can hold up to twenty. And we have plenty of rations to last until someone comes to get us, which won’t be longer than twenty-four hours. So, I think that means we can safely allow ourselves an extra chocolate biscuit and a shot of rum each. Any objections?’

‘Much as I’d doubtless enjoy the extra biscuit,’ said Mr Mates, ‘shouldn’t our main priority right now be to get the boat over there and pick up the poor drowning woman who has been shouting at us for the last half hour?’ A few people looked down into the hull of the boat, embarrassed, while others shook their heads in disbelief.

‘I thought we had agreed,’ said Roger. ‘It’s not our fault she’s drowning, and if we pick her up, we won’t be able to enjoy our extra rations. Why should we disrupt our cosy set-up here?’ There were grunts of agreement.’ Because we could save her, and if we don’t she’ll die. Isn’t that reason enough?’