Posted by: G. Lane Cavalier | June 3, 2008

Life: The Value of Survival – From my Philosophy Class

Today started the summer session for school. My summer class is Moral Philosophy. Due today was a “thought experiment” that I found quite interesting. Below is the assignment and my response.

Assignment >>>>>>

A Moral Thought Experiment: The Value of Survival
Who should survive and why?

Consider the following scenario:

You and eight other people survive a crash-landing in the wilderness. You have only ten meals
from the airplane’s storage bins, and the radio and other electronics are no longer functional, but
may (or may not) be repairable.

No one, not even you, knows where you are. You cannot assume that you will ever be rescued,
and only two people will survive past two weeks.

The value question: Who should survive and why? Explain why it would be best for those two to survive, and not the others. This is a case of asking: who should live and why? —not who would live.

Below is the list of survivors and the only information you have to aid in your decision.
(1) You.
(2) A pregnant woman: age 24 (do not count the unborn child as one of the two prospective
survivors, although we shall stipulate that if the woman survives, so shall the child); the
woman is a prostitute and wanted for petty theft.
(3) Senator Bernard J. D. Irwin: (age: mid-sixties?), recipient of the Congressional Medal
of Honor in the Vietnam War; a viable presidential candidate in the next election.
(4) Bear Stroud: survivalist (and member of the NRA); Stroud was once convicted of armed
robbery but has served his full time in jail. Stroud is thirty-five and has a wife and two sons,
age two and five.
(5) Professor Lydia Castillo-Morales: age 55, teaches electrical engineering at the
University of California, Davis; she has a pilot’s license.
(6) Timmy Williamson: age 5, severely mentally retarded.
(7) Bill Gates: founder of Microsoft, philanthropist, and richest person in the world.
(8) Sally McLaughlin: high-school chemistry teacher and researcher for an AIDS vaccine.
McLaughlin’s research has thus far been quite promising.
(9) Sister Mary Elizabeth O’Reilly: founder of a major hunger relief organization.

* Don’t fight or object to the FACTS as given—it’s a thought experiment. So think!

My Answer <<<<<<<<

I had actually answered this question, then as I tend to do, I reread the question and probably have over thought it.

But based on the fact that the question is who “SHOULD” survive, not how would they survive or the mechanics of who could live, the answer became pretty clear to me based on my own morals and views.

Sally McLaughlin and Sister O’Reilly should be the ones to survive.

Obviously others may have a better chance of surviving longer or even of finding a way to be rescued, but I didn’t interpret the question that way.

The only two who have spent their lives in an attempt to help the world at large over other goals and objectives are these two.

Based on the short biographies given, Sister O’Reilly has obviously given to the word for the benefit of others. I cannot think of many situations where someone creates a hunger relief organization for less than pure motives.

Sally McLaughlin obviously could be researching AIDS for her own personal gain (to be famous or to become wealthy), but based on the given facts, she has committed her life to the education of the young and to the search for a cure of a horrible disease.



  1. Obviously your prof is a raving liberal. Any survivalist worth their ‘beans, bullets, and band aids’ would tell you that you can survive a lot of days without food. It’s warmth and water that will kill you.

    The rule of threes — three minutes without air; three hours without shelter; three days without water; three weeks without food; and three months without love.

    Glad I escaped ‘eddykation’. Sheesh.

  2. I knew you would tell me everything but the answer.

    I think he was more interested in the Moral answer which is how do you decide who dies.

    I know you enjineers – you like problems that have REAL answers.

  3. Ya misspeelled injineer! It starts with I. 🙂

  4. Ok, I had to share this with the family, just too interesting. While Mallory and I had MUCH trouble choosing due to the emotional entanglement of choosing AGAINST the child, Marc very quickly had his picks, and they are: 1) the Senator who has the potential of becoming president 2) the Aids vaccine scientist. His reasoning is that these two have the potential to do the most good for society. I found it intriguing after reading your response to Marc that your answer was based on past performance and his was based on future possibilities….

    Very neat, thanks for sharing.

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