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An Ethical Analysis of Survival Scenarios

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An Ethical Analysis of Survival Scenarios

Maria Azeneth Lopez

Northeast Texas Community College


This paper will explore and analyze three different theories of ethics in our day to day life. Ethics argues that morals are not right or wrong. Our morals will be determined by the different type of situations that we can face. We will look into ethical egoism, virtues and utilitarianism more in depth and compare and contrast different type of situational events that can occur in our own ideals and values regarding universal truths.

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, one victim was political scientist Daniel Aldrich. He had just moved to New Orleans. Late one August night, there was a knock on the door. (Shankar, 2011) Although Hurricane Katrina was not expected to hit hard that Saturday night, by the time it was time to evacuate, it was too late for many people to do anything and they became trapped in the storm. According to the Centers of Disease Control, if a hurricane is coming, you may hear an order to evacuate (leave your home). Never ignore an order to evacuate. Even sturdy, well-built houses may not hold up against a hurricane. Staying home to protect your property is not worth risking your health and safety. You may also hear an order to stay at home. Sometimes, staying at home is safer than leaving. (Center of Disease Control, 2014)  Situational ethics argues that morals are relative to the individuals’ situation. This creates a distinct contrast to universal truths, and the idea that ethics and moral rights and wrongs transcend individuals’ situations. In our day-to-day life, when disasters strike, whether manmade or natural, we are often forced to confront our own ideals and values regarding universal truths. Justifying our actions based upon the moment, rather than some objected universal set of moral backgrounds.  What are our obligations when we are faced with such a catastrophic event? How ought one act in the face of limited sources after such event? Our obligations differ with one another in a disaster event where our morals and values are put to test in these types of situations. In order to support this paper, I will explain what obligations, morals and values consist of by analyzing ethical egoism, virtues, and utilitarianism theories.  

Ethical egoism claims that we should engage only in self-interest and no one else’s; it claims that there is no moral right or wrong doing. Psychological egoism claims that we should be selfish because human nature is selfish; therefore, human nature is self-centered. Dale Carnegie said that desire is equal to human psychology, interpreting it to “people doing what they most want to do”. We can also consider another way in how the framework of ethical egoism is described. It is understood that we shouldn’t mind other people’s business; we only know what our needs are, therefore we shouldn’t have knowledge of other’s needs.  Thomas Hobbes suggested that ethical egoism leads to the Golden Rule, which states “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” but in reality, at the end, we are still looking out for ourselves. It does not necessarily say to avoid helping others, but sometimes interests will correspond with the well-being of others. However, those that express ethical egoism can ask themselves if there is a relevant difference between two people that results in just wanting to look out for our own. We should recognize and realize that our morality should reason and accept the needs of others, not just ours.  Daniel Aldrich recalls the warning he received when Hurricane Katrina occurred. "It was a neighbor who knew that we had no idea of the realities of the Gulf Coast life," said Aldrich, who is now a political scientist at Purdue University in Indiana. He knocked on our door very late at night, around midnight on Saturday night, and said, ‘Look, you've got small kids — you should really leave.' " (Shakar, 2011)  Aldrich conducted research on other type of aid besides government help, such as firefighters and ambulances who were aiding those affected by the hurricane. Sometimes government help took too long to get to neighborhoods. His findings proved that it was personal ties among members of community that helped and aided each other. Typically, ethical egoism does not tell you to not help others. Even though the firefighters and emergency medical techs (EMTs) have an obligation as their job and duty to help others, some might just help those in need, like in Hurricane Katrina, because their needs coincide with their interest of receiving honors or awards.

In Universal Virtues, six foundational virtues have been discovered to play central roles in cross-cultural traditions and societies. (Grcic, 2013) All six  virtues are not defined in exactly the same manner in all cultures, but there is a common core meaning. The virtues are: courage, justice, humanity, temperance, transcendence and wisdom. (Grcic, 2013) Virtues are traits of characters that manifest in habitual actions; they must be commendable, unlike vices. It was after the Renaissance that virtue ethics became more secular and moral law replaced divine law. Virtues are supposed to be good for everyone to own.  For instance, courage can be described as having the ability to face anything that could be frightening, dangerous or cause pain; in other words, being brave.  When someone faces a situation that places them in a disaster scenario of any sort, like a hurricane, flood, tornado, or even a massive shooting, our virtue(s) are put to the test. Some people have the courage to do anything possible, not caring if they could get hurt or even be at risk of dying, but knowing that their virtue of courage required them to help those in need during  these types of events. The Golden mean of analyzing virtues is to have courage to confront these types of situations, but there could be situations where there could be a deficiency of courage, which leads to cowardice. If the person becomes too afraid to help or to do anything to save others, they are experiencing a deficiency of their virtue.  

Another virtue we can examine that could take place in a catastrophe event is the virtue of wisdom, which is the most basic virtue. It is defined as having knowledge of the basic truths of life, especially self-knowledge, and the ethical application of this knowledge to real life situations. Wisdom means a rational open-mindedness, love of learning, and good judgment about the uncertainties of life. (Grcic, 2013) This means that the individual holds intelligence, and it maximizes the good of others along with their own in a pleasant way. Holding this virtue can help place people at ease, and the individual can use his/her intelligence to place order during a catastrophe event. A person can have the wisdom of finding ways to survive and to plan the necessary steps that can help them survive such catastrophe. Without social order and trust, a society cannot exist for long. (Grcic, 2013)  All virtues contribute to social integration, meaning that all play an important role in society, and hence importance to all human action.



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