Morality In "Queen Vs. Dudley And Stephens"

Essay add: 19-05-2016, 11:50   /   Views: 593
Morality In "Queen Vs. Dudley And Stephens"

1. In the case of Queen vs. Dudley and Stephens, was the killing of the cabin boy, Richard Parker, morally wrong? Relate your answer to one or more of the following ethical theories: Aristotelian ethics, Hobbesian ethics, Utilitarianism, or Kantian ethics. Be sure to give a summary of the main points of the theory, as well as drawing out its implications for the case.

In the case of Dudley and Stephens, the murder of Richard Parker cannot be justified as being morally permissible. Our society functions on certain base principles, one of them being that there are some things which are forbidden, that particular actions or measures can never be correct due to their nature. Murder is an action which qualifies as being fundamentally wrong, it can never be said that murder is the right thing to do, because no matter the context, murder is in no way a morally permissible course of action.

While it is true that all of the crew members would most certainly have died if Parker had not been slain, that is still not enough reason to have permitted the murder. Even if the boy had been consulted on the matter and he had subsequently granted his consent, the act of murder still cannot be justified. There is no situation so dire (excluding warfare and self-defense) to warrant the voluntary taking of another human being’s life. Although the crew had already gone numerous days without any form of nourishment, murder was still not the proper course of action. The boy was near death, and perhaps if they had waited just another day he would have died naturally, and then they could have used his body.

This standpoint of murder never being the right decision is supported by Aristotle’s theory of “virtue ethics”. His theory states that we should live our lives according to principles of virtue and morality, and this will lead to an attainment of happiness. Aristotle says that not all of our actions should be virtuous, as an extreme amount of anything won’t bring happiness, but rather we should live to a mean between evil and morality. He believes that through our ability to reason and choose our actions we will reach that mean position and balance our lives to a point of happiness. While the theory does allow us to choose some actions which are not moral or virtuous in order to reach the mean, there are still some things in life which Aristotle considers too harsh and evil to even be considered in life.

“But not every action or every emotion admits of a mean. There some whose very name implies wickedness, as, for example....adultery, theft, and murder among the actions. All these and others like them are marked as intrinsically wicked, not merely the excesses or deficiencies of them. It is never possible to be right in them; they are always sinful.”#

In his writing Aristotle states that “the good of man is activity of soul in accordance with virtue, or, if there are more virtues than one, in accordance with the best and most complete virtue#.” This is a strong guideline for why Dudley and Stephens were totally wrong in their act, aside from the nature of murder. A major justification that they held for killing Parker was that he was young and without a family, while they had families at home for whom they were responsible. While it was a bit of a self centered reason, it was still somewhat of a virtue that they felt it necessary to think of their families as a reason why they should be spared. But their families, or anything else, should not have been enough to motivate them to kill the boy, as it is a completely evil act and cannot be justified by anyone. Aristotle also said that “it is our duty therefore to keep a certain character in our activities, since our moral states depend on the differences in our activities....we must, therefore, consider the right way of performing actions, for it is acts that determine the character of the resulting moral states#.” No matter the circumstance or the consequence of the murder, as humans, and therefore moral beings, the act cannot be condoned.

The major motivation for the murder of parker was its consequence, that being that the remaining crew members would survive for a short while longer to sustain hope of rescue. Their own lives and the happiness of their families motivated Dudley and Stephens to act out their plan and murder Parker. They ignored both their moral obligation as well as their duty as officers of a higher rank, and proceeded to kill the boy. Had they considered their duty, they would have realized that in fact it was their responsibility to ensure Parker’s safety above the others’, due to his lower status. It is generally the responsibility of the captain and then the higher ranked officers on a ship to sacrifice themselves and care for others first in the event of any emergency, but they chose to ignore that fact as well.

Because their actions were based simply upon their consequence and outcome, there is another moral theory which proves why Dudley and Stephens were completely wrong in killing Parker. Kantian ethics, the writings of Immanuel Kant, develop a theory which also looks at the virtue, or nature, of one’s actions. The main Principle of Kantian ethics is that our actions should never be dictated by their consequences, while making a decision as to whether or not to act, we should only consider the nature of the act itself. All to often humans will consider what will happen if they undertake a certain course, and this is how they justify whether or not they perform an act. Humans use an action’s result to deem its status as right or wrong, and this is what Kant’s theory attacks. According to Kant, we must always examine the nature of our actions, whether they are essentially right or wrong in themselves, before proceeding to look at results. His theory says that moral duty and obligation determine right and wrong actions, not consequences. If we look at an action and find that it is morally just, then we are permitted to consider its result before undertaking that course. This is where Dudley and Stephens were completely in the wrong, as they only looked at what would come of Parker’s death, and not if it was a moral thing to do. If it had been a morally just act which they were attempting, then the set of consequences that they were looking at would have been acceptable justification, but only after looking at the morality of the situation.

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