If I'm with a number of people and therr is too small supply for everyone but just enough for one, should I choose for all eating a bit but dying shortly after, one eating it all and dying later with the chance of meeting other people and a new chance to eat, and if so, who should I choose (including myself)?

Are there philosophies that give an answer to this question? It depends maybe on the chance given. For sure every one I'm with will die but we all do. The chance of finding other people will be less due to less time but because we are with more people the chance will be higher again.

Will a purely chance-based anwer suffice or are there other things playing, like the will to live? Or alruistic motives maybe? Will simply throwing a coin do? Of course it can but then who would throw the dice? Is a fight inevitable?

I agree this question is a bit contrived. There is no such situation in the real world. And I don't think that if such a situation would exist, every one with a lust for life and a lust for food would like to stay alive and that is the right thing to do. Staying alive and trying to share what's there with everyone (I learned at school that everybody should get the dame).


There are real life incidents, like plane crashes and shipwrecks. As in these linked cases, pretty much the greatest resource in extremis, is teamwork. Even in a situation of resorting to cannibalism to survive, teamwork can be what stops everyone dying, like after the wreck of the whaleship Essex, which Moby Dick was partly based on. It is interesting to compare Amundsen's & Scott's 'Terra Nova' expeditions; teamwork & self-sacrifice is no substitute for effective planning. But when things resort to violence, it's much more likely everyone will die, so if only from a game-theory perspective working together gives the best chance.

There is rarely a clear-cut case of everyone eats & dies, or only one eats & survives. How could you know beforehand? Maybe only the Essex ship, or other cannibalism cases like California settlers the Donner Party. A rigorous ethical analysis is maybe not what's going to help people in such situations, & is maybe unreasonable to hold people to. I find it interesting how often people do try to 'do the right thing'; being very hungry is often linked to mental clarity and calmness by people who practice fasting, which may help. Of high importance, is whether people can live with themselves after the decisions they make in such extremis - a crucial grounding to ethical thought is 'be someone it is worth being', a key personal guide for practical decision making I'd say.

Ethically, maybe the only way to go is choose lots for who will survive/be eaten, unless everyone agrees one of the party has more likelihood of surviving or is more deserving - many parents have sacrificed themselves for their children, and 'women & children first' is a common ethic in boarding lifeboats as a ship is sinking.

Philosophers have a tool to simplify and abstract ethical quandaries like this: trolley problems. You could frame it as: 5 people are going to be run over by a train, should the train driver throw themself in front of the train to try and stop it & everyone 'only' receives life-threatening injuries they will almost certainly die from, say. Then you get people to vote, for an intuitive response. Then you look at ethical systems to see if they can change any minds.

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