Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2009
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 1A


Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber

John in the Amazon II

Imagine you are in John's shoes, what would you do? Would you accept or refuse the Captain's offer? What is the right thing to do?

You are admittedly a bit puzzled by the question, although perhaps not all that puzzled. You have been reading about arguments for and against the existence of God and you expected to have a paper on God and religion. You are not unhappy with the question, but you are a bit surprised. Not completely, mind you, but a bit.

There was discussion on the very first day of class about "The Trolley Problem."


And then in the next class there was some discussion about an actual case of murder on the high seas, the case of The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens where the defendants were put on trial in 1884 in Falmouth in England for the murder of Richard Parker. In that case, if you recall, one life was taken to save three. That case, Queen v. Dudley seems to have a similar "feel" to it, to have structural affinities, at least, with the dilemma facing John in the far reaches of the Amazonian jungle.


In any event there is little time to reflect on why the paper topic is of one sort rather than another. Your "answer" has to be ready in a little less than seven days!

You decide to knuckle under.

But before you do, before you get underway, you wonder if there is any reading you should do.

Is any reading required to answer the question? Has any reading or set of readings been assigned?

Apparently, not.

Apparently, you are being asked to take a position and argue for it. Then you are asked to think of several powerful objections to your argument, and respond to them.

Still, you think to yourself, there must be several things that it might be helpful to consider along the way.

For example, is the Captain to be believed? Can the Captain be taken at his word? If the Captain is not trustworthy and you accept his offer, he may still kill the other nineteen villagers and so all twenty would be dead. The problem would not appear to have been solved.

Then again the Captain, given his rank, may be a man of his word, a responsible officer well aware of the importance of his obligations and duties and he is more to be trusted than anyone. Speculating along these lines would seem to indicate that it is very difficult in this case to identify all possible outcomes. Since it is so difficult, one way to handle the open-endedness is to make an argument on the basis of the two different assumptions, to make an argument on the assumption that the Captain is to be trusted and to make an argument, assuming he is completely untrustworthy.

But still, this is really only preliminary.


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