Volume 23, Issue 2, Summer 2001
Julian H. Franklin
Regan on the Lifeboat Problem
Tom Regan has powerfully argued that all sentient beings having some awareness of self are equal in inherent value, and that their interests where relevant must be given equal treatment. Yet Regan also contends that there are some situations in which the value of different lives should be compared and choice made between them. He supposes an overloaded lifeboat with five occupants in which all will die unless one is thrown overboard. Four of the occupants are human, one is a dog; and Regan holds that it is the dog that ought to go since its life is of less value than that of a human. Regan has thus been sharply attacked for inconsistency. Some say that the comparison of lives, even in this sort of case, contradicts the principle of equal inherent value and introduces a utilitarian calculation of benefit. Others
object that no ground of choice exists in situations of this sort. But all these criticisms turn out to be unjustified.