Natural Law Theory And Mill's Deontological Theory

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Throughout criminal history, there have been various attempts to justify murder. In a widely controversial case, two English seamen, Dudley and Stephens, killed an innocent and helpless boy and subsequently devoured his body to preserve their own lives (“The Crown versus Dudley and Stephens”). This case raises an important moral issue: Is it morally right to kill an innocent person out of necessity for one’s own survival? Three moral theories – Mill’s Utilitarianism, Aquinas’ Natural Law Theory and Kant’s Deontological Theory – provide different arguments on the morality of Dudley and Stephen’s action. However, Kant’s Deontological Theory offers the most well-founded analysis because it absolutely precludes necessity as a reason for murder and cannibalism.
From the perspective of Mill’s Utilitarianism, Dudley and Stephens’ act of killing and eating the boy is morally right. Utilitarians would infer that their cannibalistic act produces greater happiness and lesser pain for the three men who fed upon the boy’s body. On the other hand, had the boy not been killed and eaten, all four on ship would likely have died. One can also reasonably assume that the three men, unlike the boy, have wives and children at home. These dependents would
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Thomas Aquinas’ Natural Law Theory, however, yields a different conclusion. A Thomist would assert that Dudley and Stephen’s act of killing is morally wrong because it violates one of the four basic values: human life. By killing the boy, they are effectively taking his life. Conclusively, Dudley and Stephen’s action not only brings about the good effect of saving three men’s lives but it also brings about an evil effect – a young boy dying without his assent. This evil effect cannot be justified by the Doctrine of Double Effect because killing the boy was intentional and a direct means to the good effect. Therefore, Dudley and Stephen’s act of killing constitutes a direct violation of human life and as such, a morally wrong
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