Doing the right thing

The Queen vs Dudley and Stephens

Dudley 6

Only four men survived the ship wrecked Mignonette in 1884, floating for three weeks in the Atlantic in a lifeboat. On the 19th day the captain Thomas Dudley suggested they drew lots to decide who would be killed and eaten, but one man objected. On the 20th day Dudley told the others to look away, offered a prayer and cut the throat of the cabin boy, aged 17, who was sick from drinking seawater. They ate his body. Four days later they were rescued by another ship and the three survivors were charged with murder in the law case The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens.

It is significant that murder and cannibalism could be argued to be reasonable in this case. On utilitarian grounds the actions of Dudley are justified because they promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. However, using deontological ethical theories, murder is wrong in itself, regardless of the consequences for others. If cannibalism is disgusting and our emotional response is that what happened is intuitively wrong, we might ask is our disgust reasonable? Would we have done otherwise? Or could the case be put that Dudley acted rationally …….   read more of Elvira Vian’s essay

Read the ‘special’ verdict from the time here

Watch Michael Sandel’s lecture at Harvard (starts at 29.00) here

harvardjustice page

wikipedia entry


  • How would you define the knowledge issues in this historical episode? What are the issues here?
  • If you were the jury how would you rule?
  • How would you appraise claims and counterclaims from the defence and prosecution?
  • Write your closing speech as either the prosecution or the defence. (700 – 900 words)
  • Bullet point the counter arguments to your speech.
  • You may find the UHK Critical Thinking Opencourseware site useful for appraising the arguments

Extracts from “Justice” by Michael Sandel …

Marcus Luttrell and the Afghan Goat Herders

Michael Sandel writes about Price Gouging

Read the first chapter of “Justice” by Michael Sandel

Much can be learned from Sandel’s writing and literacy skills. Not only in terms of moral reasoning and ethics, but also in how to structure an argument, appraise conflicting viewpoints and relate them to more abstracted ethical and philosophical positions.

Take time to note down sentence stems, phrases, sentences and connectives that Sandel uses to articulate his thinking. Are there any new words that you can add to your repertoire? Look at ways in which he introduces and appraises the arguments of others. You will notice that he keeps a very balanced view throughout his writing, never proffers personal opinion, but instead objectively presents the arguments and counterarguments in a very clear and elucidating way. Learn what you can about the different moral standpoints, but take more effort to learn from his writing style.

Where do you stand on the issue of post Katrina price gouging?


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