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Ethical Dilemma Example: The Raft

Updated on September 11, 2015

This article contains a moral dilemma I devised (based on several others) in order to invoke thought and probe your moral thinking. Although I provide an explanation to it, you may very well come to your own, different conclusion. If you think yours is interesting enough - do share it with me in the comments section - I may even add it to the hub!


The Raft

You find yourself in a situation where you are on a raft stranded at sea with raft-eating sharks chasing you. On this raft are 10 other people. All 10 people and yourself are covering holes in the raft with their bodies to prevent water from entering the raft. You calculate that if you stay and help paddle on this raft with the others you will manage to travel fast enough to get away from the sharks for three times as long than if you were not there to paddle and help fill in the holes.

Suddenly, you see your friend on a motorboat (that sharks cannot eat) who offers to you to get on and flee to safety. There is only enough fuel to carry two people - what do you do?

Note that there is no way to adapt the raft to be powered by the lifeboat and save everyone, either you save yourself for sure or triple the likelihood of escaping the sharks for 10 people. Assume that all of the people including yourself are naked with no items that are capable of filling in the holes even whilst you're away.

Then, consider the exact same scenario but with 100, 1000, one million and one billion people on the raft that you would save (take that your importance on the raft increases with each increase of people so that survival is still 3x more with you on board each time). Is there a particular number of people for which you would risk your own life to save theirs?


Unless you happen to be the only person in the world with a cure for a deadly disease or are otherwise so important that risking your life means risking many others (because your death means the death of others), then you have no right to put your life ahead of anyone else' -- especially 10 others.

The difficulty in this situation however is that you just don't know whether staying would actually save the 10 people's lives or not. If it wouldn't, then you would have effectively killed yourself by staying.

Therefore, in this scenario, the correct action would be to quickly ask your friend how long he thinks it would take to get to land, since he got to the raft in the first place (+ he knows there is only fuel to carry one person) he could make a good estimate. Then you must make an estimate at how long you could escape the sharks for.

If land is not far and you think there is time to get to land and get help, then you should send your friend back to land by himself help and then come back to save all 11 people on the raft. Alternatively, if it is possible you should swap him with anyone from the raft that can also drive a motor boat - if they know the way - so your friend can fill in for a tired raft paddler and you could survive from the sharks for longer. If more than one person can drive the motor boat, then it should be the weakest and most tired one who should drive the boat to maximise overall strength on the raft.

If it is clear that there isn't enough time to return to land, get help, and wait for the help to aid the rafts, then the best option is to get the lift with your friend. The remaining option for the people on the raft would be to throw off the weakest people to the sharks in the hope that the sharks will fill themselves up and no longer pursue the raft. This would give more time to for you to get help.

If it is a close-call and there may or may not be time to get back (because your friend is unsure about the exact distance, weather affecting travel time and how fast the paddlers are going) then you must stay on the boat in the hope that you will save everyone and once again let your friend go by himself (or swap with someone).

In any situation, you should ask your friend for any object, piece of rubber he can pull off of the motor boat or clothing item in order to help block the holes on the boat.


A Creative Solution

A much more creative solution is to ask your friend to drive around behind the raft with his motorboat, creating turmoil in the water there and so preventing or at the very least debilitating the sharks from pursuing the raft. This would give more time and possibly make the sharks lose interest in the tasty raft. Then when it is clear no more sharks are following, the friend can go back by himself (since if he had enough fuel for 2 people to get back he may still have enough for just himself even after using fuel for scaring the sharks) and get help.

Not what BP was trying to achieve, but no sharks there..!
Not what BP was trying to achieve, but no sharks there..! | Source

Another Creative Solution

Another Creative Solution would be to have your friend board the raft and release the fuel from the motor boat slowly so that the water the sharks are swimming in is poisoned. This could prevent the sharks from following the raft or poison them resulting in their deaths or at a lag in their movement speeds. Then, although the motorboat becomes obsolete, there is one more person to paddle and fill in holes and no sharks to worry about.

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