The Queen v Dudley and Stevens
It is imperative from the onset, to appreciate the postulation of this paper which is in favor of the decision by the seamen to eat one of their own.
The facts of the case in Queen v. Dudley and Stevens are interesting and intriguing as they are unimaginable in the current world setup. However, a reasoned moral dilemma presents itself given the factors that confronted the men at sea. This paper rests its argument based on the utilitarian principles enunciated in particular by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mills. It is instructive to appreciate the common denominator in their arguments. That is to the extent that a decision advantages the majority, it is the best that can be and the law should be able to embrace the decision without introducing unnecessary legal hiccups.
This paper supports the decision by the two prisoners to kill and consequently feed on the boy while at sea. First, the paper appreciates the condition in which the seamen were encumbered in. It should be appreciated that no chance of life existed and the seamen would definitely need a reprieve so as to salvage themselves from the ravages of threating and seemingly inevitable death.
Secondly, it is essential to appreciate the reasoning of the prisoners prior to the commission of the offence. As it stands, the prisoners committed what should pass in the eyes of the court as an act of necessity. It was indeed necessary that the persons attempt to save their lives. However, the limit as to how much and in what way the people could save themselves remains within the realms of morality. In fact, the question as to whether it is necessary to kill or not remains a question of personal morals. However, relying on the utilitarian school of thought, it would have been more painful for all the men at sea to die as opposed to the sacrifice of only one of them. This majoritarian approach considers the greater good for the majority against the good that favors only the minority.
Mills puts it even more succinctly. He observes that utilitarianism may be considered as the intended pleasure that necessarily absents pain. He goes further and observes that utilitarianism is the desire of pleasure and the fear of pain. Indeed, it is the same desire of pleasure (read life) that informed the motivations by Dudley and Stevens to have the young boy killed. In fact, their reasoning is further exonerated by the fact that they did not die after the eating. In fact, they were later rescued. One needs to consider the occurrence of facts in the reverse. What if the same never happened? The clear answer for purposes of this paper is that all the seamen would have equally died out of hunger. Therefore, the approach pursued may be said to benefit the majority, but it indeed validates the need for a utilitarian approach. However, it is equally essential to appreciate the place of moral in society. However, this paper postulates that in some cases, it becomes inevitable to consider matters external to the moral tenets that inform everyday decision making.
In conclusion, while it remains difficult to demarcate cases of morals and legality, the decision in the Queen v. Dudley and Stevens is worth serious consideration and the path assumed should be one that considers the happiness of the majority.
Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. New York: BiblioBazaar, 2009.