You've been on a cruise for two days when there's an accident that forces everyone on board to abandon ship. During the evacuation, one of the boats is damaged, leaving it with a hole that fills it with water. You figure that with 10 people in the boat, you can keep the boat afloat by having nine people scoop the filling water out by hand for 10 minutes while the 10th person rests.

After that person's 10-minute rest, he or she will get back to work while another person rests, and so on. This should keep the boat from sinking long enough for a rescue team to find you as long as it happens within five hours.

You're taking your first break when you notice your best friend in a sound lifeboat with only nine people in it and he beckons you to swim over and join them so you won't have to keep bailing out water. If you leave the people in the sinking boat, they will only be able to stay afloat for two hours instead of five, decreasing their chance of being rescued, but securing yours. What do you do?

-- What should you do in view of the First Principle of Practical Reasoning, Substantive Goods, Reflexive Goods, the First Principle of Morality, Aquinas' 3 parts to morality, the double effect, utilitarianism, and Categorical Imperative? Thanks.

  • 1
    Welcome, Amiothenes. An answer that encompassed the viewpoints of 'the First Principle of Practical Reasoning, Substantive Goods, Reflexive Goods, the First Principle of Morality, Aquinas' 3 parts to morality, the double effect, utilitarianism, and Categorical Imperative' would extend to inordinate length. Could you leave members to select a relevant ethical (& not of course merely personal) viewpoint?
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 11:20
  • Hello, Amiothenes. I've amended your final para as well as the header so as to make the topic more manageable. If you want to reject the changes, you can restore the original text. Some might dismiss the very idea of objectivity in ethics but this is only one standpoint among others; and the revised question only asks whether there are objective criteria. It does not assume that there are.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 12:00
  • I think the question should either pick one framework to ask for an answer from, or pick two and ask for a comparison. Anything more than that will be far too broad. Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 12:50
  • What are "Aquinas' 3 parts to morality"?
    – Geremia
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 14:42
  • So. you're asking if we should have a nice rest and let nine people die or take our turn baling. If this looks a moral dilemma to you I hope we don't end up in the same shipwreck. :) .
    – user20253
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 10:39

2 Answers 2


Practicality states that one should first help himself/herself before they can help others. If I swim to my friend that will increase my chance to survive but on the other hand decrease the chance of survival for others. This is the survival instinct of all living beings.
By the double side effect - I am not having any intention of harming any other human being but have the intention of saving myself which is not a wrong thing. By the First Principle of Morality - it is wrong to abandon the post and work which was pre-defined and the calculation of survival was made on it.
By Substantive Goods - this may conflict with the instincts and practical thinking as every human being has an equal right to live and to survive.


I would apply utilitarian morality and stay in the boat helping the 9 people that would sink if I leave. 9 lives are more important than my comfort of not having to work removing water from the sinking boat.

Categorical imperative: Define a moral axiom and execute it no matter the situation(e.g. I should always optimize my chances of surviving. Hence, swim to the other boat)

Aquinas 3 parts to morality:

  1. Moral action: swim to the other boat or not.
  2. Intention: increase personal chances of survival at the expense of others or vice versa.

  3. Consequences: everyone survives/ you survive others die.

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