Lifeboat ethics.

This is a metaphor for resource distribution as proposed by the ecologist Garrett Hardin.


▢ There is a lifeboat carrying 7 people with space for 2 more people.

▢ The lifeboat is surrounded by 6 swimmers

▢ Under what criteria/circumstances should swimmers be taken aboard?


  1. The lifeboat may be rescued in hours, days, months or it may never be found and everyone could die anyway.
  2. How many swimmers can be safely taken aboard without jeopardizing the existing passengers?
  3. Is it acceptable to deny a dying a passenger food and water and save it for the others?
  4. It is acceptable to throw a dying passenger over board (knowing they will die anyway) to make room for someone else?
  5. If food is low, is cannibalism an option?
  6. Is it acceptable to murder weak or dying passengers to preserve food and water?
  7. It is acceptable to rank passengers by skillsets ie assigning a higher value to someone with physical prowess or medical skills when apportioning rations?

The lifeboat is analogous to spaceship earth. These questions mirror questions of immigration and foreign aid where the swimmers are the poor countries and the rich countries occupy the space in the lifeboat.