Abandoned at Sea

aubrey.jpgOne of the most powerful scenes in the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World occurred when one of the ship mates was thrown overboard the HMS Surprise in the midst of a storm when the elements shattered the mast. As the mate desperately clung to the piece of the mast in the ocean that remained tethered to the ship via ropes, the raging waters threatened the survival of the ship itself. Captain Aubrey had to make a gut-wrenching decision.

Aubrey cut the mast loose, and he and the crew watched in horror as the mate drowned in front of their eyes.


What would you have done in Aubrey's place?

What action does objective morality and the non-aggression principle prescribe in this situation?

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I couldn't make a ethical

I couldn't make a ethical call on this one without input from qualified mariners, the opinion of witnesses from the ship, character witnesses and the like. I'm afraid there is just not enough information and there could be mitigating information in either direction.

"In emergency situations,

"In emergency situations, however, the necessary means for providing for ones own survival no longer exist. The survival of one individual can depend on or conflict with the survival of others. In such situations, an individual must see to his own survival before seeing to the survival of others."

My "individualness" doesn't just consist of my body. It also consists of my beliefs. To yank a life preserver out of the owners hands just to save myself would be the death of my person as surely as if I were to drown. In fact, more completely since it would render meaningless the rest of my life both preceding and after the incident.

The above sentiment is in harmony with some of Rands teachings and disharmony with others. I guess she wasn't so rational after all.

Notice, no need to invoke Nazis.

By that logic, though, the

By that logic, though, the sailor was commiting an act of agression when he endangered the boat by tethering himself to it.

He didn't intentionally cause the boat to become endangered. It was the result of a storm. Aubrey intentionally cut the ropes.

Can you say "can't see the

Can you say "can't see the forest for the trees"?

The choices were:
1. cut him loose, thereby insuring his death
2. try to rescue him, thereby ensuring the death of all

In statistics, two events A and B are considered independent if the probability of A given B is the same as the probability of A (given nothing). In this case, the probability of the unfortunate overboard soul dying was pretty much 1 whether he was cut loose or not. That is, the captain's choice was irrelevant to his survival; whether he survived and whether he was cut loose were independent. Given that, how could one possibly lay the charge of causing the man's death at the captain's feet?

Jonathan, I, too, would

Jonathan,

I, too, would have made the same decision as Aubrey -- at least I hope I would have.

The non-aggression principle dictates[as I understand it]that one not initiate hostility against another. Aubrey initiated hostility by cutting the mast. He caused the drowning death of the ship mate when he did so.

Objective morality I have a bit of a difficult time 'getting' -- but I believe it is the means by which Aubrey could in his mind justify the drowning of the ship mate. In the case of the film, the 'means' was the fact that cutting the mast saved the ship and those aboard.

"Yes, but it would be

"Yes, but it would be irrational to expect me to value Joe?s property rights before my own continued existence."

Then why did you say you wouldn't rip Joe's life preserver off? What did you value more than your life in that case?

"People don?t die

"People don?t die immediately simply because they?ve been shot either. But I?d still call both an act of aggression."

The ship wasn't a safe place Jonathan, it was going down becuse it was tethered to the mast. I think you could fairly make the case that he had a *better* chance of survival once Aubrey cut him loose since his continued survival depended on the seaworthiness of the ship. There was some chance, however small, that that he'd be able to get back to the ship, a better chance than he'd have if the ship sank.

Nope, I don't see at all how Aubrey killed him.

>Then why did you say you

>Then why did you say you wouldn?t rip Joe?s life
>preserver off? What did you value more than your
>life in that case?

My self image.

>>Objectivists (possibly

>>Objectivists (possibly Rand) called this the ?situational absolute? or ?conditional absolute?. I experienced uncontrollable laughter when I first heard this term.<<

Micha,then if I am understanding objectivism correctly -- Hitler, too, could have used objective morality to rationalize the murdering of Jews during WW2?

So you are saying that it is

So you are saying that it is ethically permissable to kill someone depending on the circumstances?

Objectivists (possibly Rand) called this the "situational absolute" or "conditional absolute". I experienced uncontrollable laughter when I first heard this term.

To achieve Jonathan's original purpose with his question, consider the following situation:

Captain Aubrey has a choice. There is a heavy storm and if he doesn't cut off the mast, there is a 95% chance that the boat will sink and the entire crew will be killed. If he does cut off the mast, there is a 100% chance that the entire crew will be saved, except for the 100% chance that the poor ships mate will be killed. There is also a 5% chance that the storm will suddenly subside, and everyone on the crew, including the ships mate will be safe, so long as the mast stays connected to the ship. However, if Captain Aubrey decides to cut off the mast, the ships mate will die, even if the storm subsides.

>Micha,then if I am

>Micha,then if I am understanding objectivism
>correctly ? Hitler, too, could have used
>objective morality to rationalize the murdering
>of Jews during WW2?

Yay, by Goodwin's Law, I win the debate!

Just to clear some things

Just to clear some things up:

If I had been in Aubrey's shoes, I would have made the same decision.

The question I am more interested in and have not had satisfactorily answered is what the non-aggression principle dictates in this situation, and what action objective morality prescribes.

And what if much of the crew

And what if much of the crew was signed on via press gangs?

That's a separate issue,

That's a separate issue, then, Patri.

In a situation when I have to choose between your death, and my death + your death, I'm choosing to live every time. If I didn't put you in that situation against your will, I am not morally responsible for your death.

In a situation, on the other hand, where my choices are my death or your death, you would need to be on the very short list of people I would die for.

In emergency situations,

In emergency situations, however, the necessary means for providing for ones own survival no longer exist. The survival of one individual can depend on or conflict with the survival of others. In such situations, an individual must see to his own survival before seeing to the survival of others.

So you are saying that it is ethically permissable to kill someone depending on the circumstances? (That's exactly what Aubrey did.)

Aubrey didn't kill him, he

Aubrey didn't kill him, he greatly enhanced the chances of survival of the rest while slightly diminishing the chances of the man overboard.

That guy's chances weren't going to be any better if the ship sank, and that's the prospect that was staring Aubrey in the face.

If these guys are volunteers

If these guys are volunteers then they've agreed to live and die according to his judgment in such situations. His decision was in good faith anf violates no rights.

"In emergency situations,

"In emergency situations, however, the necessary means for providing for ones own survival no longer exist. The survival of one individual can depend on or conflict with the survival of others. In such situations, an individual must see to his own survival before seeing to the survival of others."

Well if Joe had the foresight to bring a life preserver and you didn't can you just rip it off of him because you can't produce the means of your survival?

Rand's treatment of emergencies was weak.

>>Aubrey didn?t kill him, he

>>Aubrey didn?t kill him, he greatly enhanced the chances of survival of the rest while slightly diminishing the chances of the man overboard<<

Slightly dimished chances? LOL, I would liken it to ceasing the life-support on a ventilator patient!

>Well if Joe had the

>Well if Joe had the foresight to bring a life
>preserver and you didn?t can you just rip it off
>of him because you can?t produce the means of
>your survival?

Well, personally I'd say that attacking Joe and ripping it away is going too far, even in the case of an emergency.

But suppose the ship is going down and Joe's life preserver is sitting unattending on the deck (I have no idea where Joe is or if he's coming back for it). Is it unethical for me to steal it?

"Slightly dimished chances?

"Slightly dimished chances? LOL, I would liken it to ceasing the life-support on a ventilator patient!"

How much better were his chances of suvival tethered to a sinking ship?

"But suppose the ship is

"But suppose the ship is going down and Joe?s life preserver is sitting unattending on the deck (I have no idea where Joe is or if he?s coming back for it). Is it unethical for me to steal it?"

You are violating his property rights but you are possibly in a position to reasonably conclude that it is probably a trivial violation. You do owe him a life preserver.

>>Aubrey didn?t kill him, he

>>Aubrey didn?t kill him, he greatly enhanced the chances of survival of the rest while slightly diminishing the chances of the man overboard<

Slightly dimished chances? LOL, I would liken it to ceasing the life-support on a ventilator patient!?

How much better were his chances of suvival tethered to a sinking ship?

I don't think his chances of survival change the fact that Aubrey killed the bloke by cutting him loose.

Am I misremembering some

Am I misremembering some vital element of the scene? Why do you say cyutting him loose was the same as killing him?

Am I misremembering some

Am I misremembering some vital element of the scene? Why do you say cyutting him loose was the same as killing him?

It was an action that actively lead to his immediate death. An alternative existed that might have saved him from immediate death.

For what it's worth, the

For what it's worth, the vessel was on a military mission. As such, the Captain has a responsibility to his position to preserve the ship in fighting form until the completion of that mission, or the ship is sunk or captured in battle at sea.

The mate was lost to the sea during a storm, which threatened the entire ship and its ability to complete the assigned mission. While attempts were made to save the crewman, the preservation of the ship became endangered and then DUTY required Aubrey to order the rigging cut loose and the unfortunate crewman to be drowned.

A more morally troublesome question might be: what if this was a merchantman caught in such a storm, loaded with valuable cargo that would be sold to the profit of the ship's owners? Would the same exigencies exist for the captain of such a ship: save a crewman at the considerable risk of the entire crew and ship, or reluctantly and knowingly suspend rescue operations?

Jonathan, Not to be obtuse,

Jonathan, Not to be obtuse, but why did it lead to his immediate death? People don't drown immediately simply because they've been cut loose. Am I forgetting that he was dragged under by an anchor or something?

>You are violating his

>You are violating his property rights but you
>are possibly in a position to reasonably
>conclude that it is probably a trivial
>violation.

Yes, but it would be irrational to expect me to value Joe's property rights before my own continued existence. Hence my point that, owing to the emergency situation, normal ethical principles cannot be considered to be operating.

Micha, That off the wall,

Micha,

That off the wall, eh? Oookay. . . back to the books!

Seriously, if I'm not

Seriously, if I'm not understanding it at all & am way out there -- just tell me I'm way out there. :) Thanks.

Sorry. :(

Sorry. :(

Michi, I have no idea how to

Michi,

I have no idea how to even begin to answer your question. All I know is that "situational absolute" is pretty goddamn funny.

Not to be obtuse, but why

Not to be obtuse, but why did it lead to his immediate death? People don?t drown immediately simply because they?ve been cut loose.

People don't die immediately simply because they've been shot either. But I'd still call both an act of aggression.

By that logic, though, the

By that logic, though, the sailor was commiting an act of agression when he endangered the boat by tethering himself to it.

If it's a slave crew then

If it's a slave crew then the captain is simply obliged to emancipate them.

I do not think that it is

I do not think that it is fair to say that Aubrey killed the crewman in this case. He did not throw him into the ocean or tether him to the mast, and break the mast. All these things happened by chance and through the impact of the storm. Ultimately he was thrust into a situation where he could not save the life of a crewman who had been thrown into grave danger. Cutting off the mast might have contributed to the crewman's death, however not cutting it loose would have equally contributed.

If we look at this in terms of rescue instead of death we see that he had a choice of rescuing all but one, or attempting to rescue one and losing all.

If you assume the

If you assume the unfortunate overboard soul signed up voluntarily, I say he accepted the risk and the captain did the right thing.

I'd recommend Rand's essay

I'd recommend Rand's essay "The Ethics of Emergencies" which dealt with pretty much this same issue. Her main conclusion was that since emergency situations aren't metaphysically the same as normal life, one can't really expect the ethics that govern in one to be applicable to the other.

Specifically, in normal life, one can provide for ones existence with one's own labor. Since survival of one individual does not conflict with the survival of other individuals, there's no moral justification for aggression.

In emergency situations, however, the necessary means for providing for ones own survival no longer exist. The survival of one individual can depend on or conflict with the survival of others. In such situations, an individual must see to his own survival before seeing to the survival of others.