Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Case of the Speluncean Explorers

You probably have come across this interesting legal/philosophical puzzle. It presupposes no knowledge of law or philosophy of law, and should be an enjoyable exercise. 

 A gentleman called Lon Fuller wrote an interesting (and now famous) article in 1949 in the Harvard Law Review journal titled "The Case of the Speluncean Explorers" creating a fictitious legal case. The case tells the story of a group of cave-explorers in the fictitious fictitious Commonwealth of Newgarth, trapped in a cave by a huge landslide which blocked all the exits from the cave. Then they ran out of their supply of food and water. As they approach the point of starvation, they make radio contact with the rescue team outside. Engineers on the team estimate that the rescue will take another 10 days. The men describe their rapidly weakening physical condition to physicians at the rescue camp and ask whether they can survive another 10 days without food. The physicians think this very unlikely. 

Then the trapped explorers ask whether they could survive another 10 days if they killed and ate a member of their party. The physicians reluctantly answer that they would. Finally, the men ask whether they ought to hold a lottery to determine whom to kill and eat. No one at the rescue camp is willing to answer this question. The men turn off their radio, and some time later hold a lottery, kill the loser, and eat him. When they are rescued, they are prosecuted for murder, which in Newgarth carries a mandatory death penalty. Are they guilty? Should they be executed?

1 comment:

January Makamba said...

The Facts in the Case of the Speluncean Explorers are as follows:

 The four defendants and Roger Whetmore were avid members of the Speluncean Society and routinely embarked on amateur cave exploration trips. One of these trips began in May of 4299 in central Negarth.

 As the explorers only thought this a day-trip, only minimal provisions were taken into the cave with them and no edible matter grew within the confines of the cave.

 On the twentieth day, communication was established between the rescuers and the trapped explorers via two-way radio. The explorers expressed their concerns and asked how long the rescue would take. The engineer in charge of the rescue attempt answered that at least ten more days were needed with no unforeseen problems arising.

 At this point, the trapped explorers were famished and worried about their health without any sustenance to maintain them. Physicians were called in to assess their condition. When asked whether they would conceivably live without any food for an additional ten days, the physicians answered in the negative.

 After eight hours of deliberation between the trapped explorers, Whetmore acted as the spokesman for the explorers (himself included) and asked the physicians whether consuming the flesh of one of the trapped members would sustain the others until the rescue attempt proved fruitful. The physicians carefully contemplated and then reluctantly answered that it would.

 When Whetmore asked for advice on how to decide which member would be sacrificed for the betterment of the other four, the physicians would not answer this question. The explorers asked for advice from clergy, judges, and government officials, but none would advise the explorers on the appropriate action under the circumstances.

 After no one would advise them as to the appropriate actions, the explorers ceased all radio contact.

 Whetmore proposed to the other explorers that the only feasible way for any of the explorers to live, was to sacrifice one of their lot for the betterment of the other four. The method chosen to do this was throwing of the dice.

 At the last minute, Whetmore withdrew his support from the plan that he had, in fact, initiated in favor of waiting another week. The others threw the dice for themselves and asked Whetmore if he had any objections to someone throwing them on his behalf. Whetmore did not object. He lost and was put to death and consumed by his companions.

 Miraculously, on the twenty-third day, the remaining four explorers were rescued. After the four explorers were treated in the hospital for malnutrition and shock, they were indicted for the murder of Whetmore.