Jim, a botanist, who is on botanical expeditions to a Southern American town, finds himself in an unfortunate scenario. His expeditions land him in an area where executions of twenty Indian government protestors are to occur. These are being masterminded by the captain Pedro together with his army. Jim is, however, excused for being a foreigner, but it does not come for free. The captain presents Jim with an offer that leaves him in a moral catch 22 of what decision to make. It is either he chooses to shoot at one of the Indian captives and the other nineteen are left scot-free, or he chooses to forgo it and all the captives and him are prosecuted by the ruthless Pedro. The pleas of the men on the wall do not make the situation any better for Jim, as he does not know what to do. Some wise decision has to be made fast.
Jim’s recollection of his schoolboy fiction is also surfacing as another possible solution to the moral dilemma. However, it may not be the easiest way out for Jim as he would be faced with well-trained army soldiers. The decision that Jim makes would be based on the fact that he is a botanist. He, therefore, will be expected to come up with a decision that shows some respect to life and its existence. Jim’s decision will be influenced by Rule Deontological Normative Ethical Theory or Utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism dictates that Jim should make a decision that will have a common good outcome for the majority of the captives. By deciding to follow this theory, Jim’s method of arriving at this common good for the majority of the captives does not come in question. The common good is that the nineteen captives will be left scot-free at the expense of one of them who will be killed by Jim.
The key consideration for Jim if he is to follow the theory of utilitarianism is the outcome that will ensue and not the means by which it is to be achieved. This may seem a cheap way out for Jim, but life of one Indian will have to be taken. Most of the captives are for this option as it comes along with the common feeling of safety for the majority; after all, it is only one life that will be taken. Jim may have to disregard some of the societal rules concerning life and take the life of one of the protestors. Pedro agrees to give Jim a guest’s privilege of executing one Indian himself. Pedro is willing to adopt Jim’s country’s justice only if Jim adopts a bit of the justice existing in South American country. By shooting one Indian himself, Jim will save the life of the other nineteen. Perhaps, the big question looming in his mind is, however, whether it is morally upright to sacrifice a life in order for the rest of lives to be rescued.
If Jim opts for the rule deontological normative ethical theory approach, he simply will temporarily put on hold all other possible consequences that he thinks of and decline Pedro’s offer. Thus, he will not kill one Indian who would act as a scapegoat for the nineteen lives at stake. He will simply let Pedro go on with his plan of execution. This way, he will be morally justified since he does not take a life nor saves any. In the event that he opts for utilitarianism, this rule will critically look at Jim’s action of murdering a protestor in order to save the rest as morally wrong. The outcome of the decision that Jim makes does not matter in this theory; only the action to be taken is significant in determining his moral uprightness.
Jim is a botanist; thereby he is expected to have some respect for every living being. Despite the situation at stake, he is not expected to shift goal posts about his motive and intentions to study life, and, of course, he is expected to be sensitive about creating it rather than destroying it. It is for this reason that if he opts for the rule deontological normative ethical theory approach, he will not act wisely from a moral perspective.
Thus, if Jim decides to evade the problem at hand by choosing not to accept Pedro’s offer to take a life, it will question his morality. There are twenty lives at stake, nineteen of which could be saved by his decision. This calls for Jim to act as a utilitarian. Choosing to execute one individual to save nineteen would morally make sense, as the scenario at hand is a classic example of a desperate situation calling for a desperate action. Judgment about one’s morality is in most cases presented after an action is executed and not before the action. Therefore, it would be better for Jim to be hailed as morally upright by the nineteen Indians rather than to be murdered together with twenty Indians.
In this case, Jim has a chance to save many lives, including his. Saving at least some lives is by far more glorious than saving none.