Talk:Lifeboat ethics

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You know, I detest this scenario, too (I always said, "Pick the meatiest ones, in case we run out of food"), but your "fallacies" are misplaced. With the possible exception of the first one, the others are often a fact in sea disasters--boat sinks, more swimmers than boats, problems ensue, lifeboats get swamped, more people drown. In the real world, of course, there wouldn't be picking and choosing going on--it'd be a first-come, first-serve sort of operation. Using the Titanic as an example is particularly misguided--much of the death toll can be attributed to a lack of lifeboat space, and (contrary to your scenario) there were fights for lifeboat space, and men had to be restrained at gunpoint to allow the women and children to board.--RossC 20:37, 8 December 2007 (EST)

Andy, you've got to do better than this. As a lawyer, you know better than to refute a hypothetical scenario with the argument "this will never happen." Remember torts class? You were given a grade over nonsense that would never happen. Deal with the argument on the merits, and quit being retarded. --JamaicanJah 20:55, 8 December 2007 (EST)
In reply to RossC, that isn't true about the Titanic, as more than enough people voluntarily gave up spots on lifeboats, and the rescue came quicker than some probably expected. The content page also identifies other flaws in the problem.
JamaicanJah, in torts class the hypotheticals should illustrate real controversies, not pure fantasy. There is no end to the absurdities if unrealistic problems are presented. Suppose a UFO landed and demanded a parent to give up one of her children? Which would it be? The proper answer is, "that's silly."
The root of the lifeboat dilemma is a lack of faith, as the Biblical account illustrates.--Aschlafly 09:00, 9 December 2007 (EST)
Regarding your Titanic claim and RossC's claim not being true:
Mrs. Beane, interviewed shortly after the sinking, said she had seen members of the Titanic's crew holding men back at gunpoint from the lifeboat stations after the order was given for only women and children to board the boats. According to the interview, she said she had seen one man shot.
(Source: Found here but can also be found here.) --Jenkins 09:15, 9 December 2007 (EST)
Jenkins, it's undisputed that scores of men voluntarily went down with the ship. In fact, your story tends to reinforce that there was extra lifeboat space, as Mrs. Beane's groom was pulled into a lifeboat and saved.--Aschlafly 09:33, 9 December 2007 (EST)
Andy, please try to focus on what I actually clarified. Here's a summary, using quotes:
RossC: "there were fights for lifeboat space, and men had to be restrained at gunpoint to allow the women and children to board."
Andy: "that isn't true about the Titanic, as more than enough people voluntarily gave up spots on lifeboats"
The truth is that men were held at gunpoint, contrary to your claim that RossC is wrong. Also, you're arguing that there was more than enough space because he was pulled into a lifeboat, but it's just as likely that somebody had fallen out. Or do you think that the Titanic deployed their lifeboats with empty seats?
In fact, your "more than enough men gave up their slot" and the cited "men held at gunpoint" are both solutions for the Lifeboat Ethics scenario of the Titanic: Ship sinks, not enough lifeboats, a decision has to be made who goes into the boats and who is left to drown. Yet you claim that "no one is likely to be in the situation described" and that such an event has the same probability as an encounter with an UFO. I could say more about the fallacies you list in the article, but I'm 95% certain that you would dismiss any criticism, so I'll do more productive things instead. --Jenkins 11:25, 9 December 2007 (EST)
I fear that this is getting off-topic in relation to the article, but...Titanic had a lifeboat capacity of about 1200. Only about 700 were rescued, meaning about 500 seats were empty. Many of the lifeboats went partly empty because of confusion and disbelief (early on, many thought it was only a drill), fear that boat capacity was overstated, and problems during launch (two were swamped upon launch, and floated off empty). Now, once the boats were away and people were in the water, there was discussion/argument in the part-empty boats about going back and taking on more passengers, but only one boat (#14) did; the rest feared that--yes--they'd be swamped by desperate people trying to get into the lifeboat. Now, regarding women/children, there was theoretically space enough in the lifeboats for all women and children (even as empty as they were), but about 30 percent of women and children passengers died, their theoretical spots in the lifeboats taken by men and crew (who should have been the last to go).
But enough of that. Instead a practical suggestion: How about an example of (or a link to) the lifeboat dilemma problem, so that readers can better understand how it varies from reality, and how it pushes situational ethics, etc.--RossC 12:05, 9 December 2007 (EST)
The point is this: even on the Titanic, the rarest event imaginable, there were plenty of lifeboat spaces after the volunteers gave up their spots. This underscores how the lifeboat problem is much a fantasy as a UFO invasion would be.--Aschlafly 13:06, 9 December 2007 (EST)
How can you say that there were plenty of lifeboat spaces after volunteers gave up their spots? Out of nearly 2300 people on board, approximately 1500 died when the ship foundered. Are you suggesting that those 1500 people all voluntarily gave up their chance to be on a lifeboat so that the 700 could be saved? SSchultz 22:21, 9 December 2007 (EST)
The stated lifeboat capacity was 1200. Everything was top quality on the Titanic, and it's plausible that 1500-1800 could have been squeezed on those lifeboats without causing them to sink. Yes, there were 500 who voluntarily gave up their lives. There may have been 1000 who did so. Welcome to Christianity.--Aschlafly 22:26, 9 December 2007 (EST)
I'm sorry, there's a difference between voluntarily giving up your seat and not taking a seat because you've been told by the crew that there are no seats available because you're male, for example. The truth is that the Titanic situation was actually an example of lifeboat ethics in action: People weren't saved randomly or based on order of arrival, they were saved by class. The life of a 1st class passenger was more important than a third class passenger. And the "women and children first" claim doesn't necessarily fly either. More 1st class men were saved that 3rd class children, for example, and more crew were saved than second or third class passengers (separately, not combined). On Titanic, your status bought your life. SSchultz 22:43, 9 December 2007 (EST)

The strongest argument here is still that the lifeboat problem is based on lack of faith - when you let someone die to let someone else survive, rather than believing that God will either save you all. I believe that in such a situation, God is the one who should decide who lives and dies. The whole argument is based on lack of faith and even though it opens up some very interesting discussions, it's a horrible way to learn "morals" to children in public schools. Hammet 17:55, 9 December 2007 (EST)

Right. Basically, the lifeboat problem is the equivalent of dividing both sides of a math equation by zero. By introducing fallacies and expelling faith, everything goes wacky and it becomes an absurdity, which liberals then use to confuse and indoctrinate with illogical and immoral "solutions".--Aschlafly 18:19, 9 December 2007 (EST)

Is conservapedia advocating suicide?

Schlafly - your 4th "logical fallacy" concerning the lifeboat scenario presents you with a significant challenge. You claim that the scenario would never happen, because people will be willing to not go into the lifeboat. These individuals would be engaging in suicide, which is a sin. Do you really want to tell young children that view this site that they don't have to worry about difficult ethical decisions, because they can wait for people to kill themselves?

Seems like a terrible idea. --SacchoPavta 15:22, 9 December 2007 (EST)

I think you have self sacrifice confused with suicide. There's a difference between sacrificing your own life to save the life of others (though a very small percentage of non-lifeboaters actually lived) and killing yourself for selfish reasons. Jesus could have gotten out of crucifixion but he did not -- I'm pretty sure he didn't commit a sin in doing so. HelpJazz 15:28, 9 December 2007 (EST)
Jazz, I think you might have gotten yourself confused. Look at this encyclopedia's entry for suicide. There is no differentiation between suicide and self-sacrifice. You're just making that up out of thin air.
Suicide is only bad when killing yourself for selfish reasons? Seriously? Where do you get this stuff?
Additionally, Jesus didn't kill himself, the Jews did it. He did't put a spear through his own side. However, Schlafly wants us to sit around until an adequate number of people throw themselves into the ocean. Can you see the difference between the two examples, or do you need me to type it really slowly for you? SacchoPavta 15:34, 9 December 2007 (EST)
You say "Jesus didn't kill himself, the Jews did it." Might I also say "those people on the Titanic didn't kill themselves, the water did it"? Both situations are one in which the sacrificer can make a decision which saves the lives of others, but which has a high certainty of their own death. It doesn't matter that a man-made object killed one and a force of nature killed the other.
Are you trying to argue that someone who saves others by throwing himself on a grenade (to use Ed's example) is the same as someone who kills himself just because? That a police officer dying in the line of duty is morally no different than a bank robber dying during a heist? If you truly believe this then I think we just have to agree to disagree. HelpJazz 16:02, 9 December 2007 (EST)

The legal and moral definition of suicide goes beyond "deliberately causing one's own death". If I throw myself on a live grenade, to save another person's life, I do not expect to wake up in hell a few days later for this. Rather, "Greater love hath no man ...". Likewise, Socrates drank hemlock but this is not considered suicide even though he could have resisted this "form of execution". The Japanese kamikaze I'm not sure about, but no one doubts their self-sacrificial motives. Now, the anti-Israeli and anti-American suicide bombers of recent years is yet another thing.

One thing is for sure, that sacrificing myself to save others is not a sin. --Ed Poor Talk 15:36, 9 December 2007 (EST)

Side note: Kamikaze redirects to Homicide Bomber (as does suicide bomber, by the way), so the Kamikaze pilots were "combining the heinous sins of suicide and mass murder" (and if they still attended some sort of school, they would've even been young mass murderers :P), according to CP. --Jenkins 17:16, 9 December 2007 (EST)

User:SacchoPavta, see if you can figure out the difference between suicide and sacrifice, and then get back to us once you figure that out.--Aschlafly 15:47, 9 December 2007 (EST)

Major rework

I recently made a major rework of this page. The new version is appended to this, below the line. This change was reverted, 5 minutes later, by Aschlafly, with no explanation other than that I should make smaller changes. So here is my first proposed change, persented for discussion. The 90/10 rule will probably prevent me from further discussion of this.

What I propose is to change the sentence starting with:

This lifeboat problem is often taught in public school in order to persuade ...


This problem is often used as the model for a number of interesting ethical and philosophical questions involving endangering or sacrificing people for the "greater good".

That is, removing the unsourced and unsupported speculation about teachers' motives in discussing this. Of course, maybe someone can come up with appropriate national surveys showing teachers' reasons for talking about these sorts of issues.

Diogenes 19:50, 16 January 2008 (EST)

Here is my proposed rewrite:

Lifeboat ethics, or the lifeboat problem, is the moral dilemma created by imagining the following situation:

You are the captain of a lifeboat that can only hold 15 people, but there are currently 20 in it. The boat will sink unless several people leave, resulting in their deaths. How do you decide whom to throw off?

This problem is often used as the model for a number of interesting ethical and philosophical questions involving endangering or sacrificing people for the "greater good".

Various forms of the lifeboat problem have been the theme of a number of books, movies, and television programs. The lifeboat situation is the starkest setting for this theme, but there are many others.

While fictionalized scenarios are often contrived to the point of extreme improbability, various analogues show up, to varying degrees, in a number of real-life situations. In fact, the "Triage" problem is an actual variant of this. Triage refers to the categorization of disaster victims into three categories: those who will not survive whether they are given assistance or not, those who will survive whether they are given assistance or not, and those for whom assistance will affect the outcome. The point of triage is to allocate scarce resources (doctors, medical facilities, blood) to those who will actually benefit. The ethical dilemma is that it sometimes requires decisions to let people die.

Other real-life examples are decisions about selecting organ transplant recipients, or allocation of very scarce or expensive drugs or medical treatments.

As a philosophical or ethical exercise, the lifeboat problem can involve discussions of life or death decisions based on a person's "worth"—such traits as a physical handicap, old age, or other perceived "defect". In actual triage situations, such considerations are generally not considered, though they occasionally show up in things like organ transplant decisions.

The training of medical personnel and emergency responders deals with these sorts of questions, even though the lifeboat problem itself is mostly a philosophical exercise.

Your rewrite is laden with liberal bias. The "greater good", for example. A denial of why public schools push this fiction of lifeboat ethics, for another example. A false claim that the lifeboat problem exists in real life. It doesn't. Etc.--Aschlafly 20:18, 16 January 2008 (EST)

Faith-based approaches

There are those who believe that religious faith, guided by prayer, can solve instances of this problem. They cite the following factors:

  • The future is never known with the degree of certainty required by the problem. There is, for example, a real chance that the lifeboat will hold more, or that help will arrive, or that people will volunteer to leave the boat, or that other solutions will be found by ingenuity or prayer.
  • No one is likely to be in the situation described, any more than it is likely that a UFO will land in 5 minutes and create such a dilemma. It's silly to speculate on a scenario that will never happen.
  • A shortage of lifeboat space is due to the negligence of someone: the captain, the shipowner, or someone else. There is no shortage of lifeboat materials and supplies in the world that require this scenario to occur.
  • It is unlikely that too few people would volunteer to leave the boat. When the Titanic sunk, men volunteered to give lifeboat space to women and children, for example, and there was no ethical dilemma.

Faith-based approaches also cite the following Biblical considerations:

There is a passage in the Gospels that suggests that a lack of faith is the cause of the dilemma, and greater faith is the solution:[1]

Then Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!"

It is not known whether adherents of faith-based or biblical approaches are employed in hospital emergency rooms or in police, fire, or similar first-responder organizations.

The fallacies to the lifeboat problem are not dependent on faith. They are logical fallacies also, so your new title is a distortion.--Aschlafly 20:19, 16 January 2008 (EST)

Rationality-based approaches

As noted above, situations similar to the lifeboat problem actually do arise in modern life, and are the subject of serious study and training. The philosophical attitude of the practitioners of this approach appears to be "If God gave us brains, He probably intended that we use them."


  1. Matthew 8:23-27 (NIV).