In our previous post, we mentioned Peter Suber’s beautiful book on Lon Fuller’s fictional “Case of the Speluncean Explorers.” By way of background, this hypothetical case occurs in the year 4300 A.D. in the Commonwealth of Newgarth. The relevant facts and the applicable statute are as follows:
I. The Facts
The relevant facts of this fictional case are undisputed: After a massive landslide, five explorers are trapped in a remote cave with limited rations. Via radio, they learn that a massive rescue effort is underway, but as their food and water supplies dwindle, one of the explorers (Roger Whetmore), who happens to have a pair a dice with him, proposes to the others that they draw lots (by throwing the dice) to randomly determine who should be sacrificed so that the other four might live until they are rescued. After much discussion, the men apparently assign numbers to themselves and agree to roll the dice. (We say “apparently” because Fuller does not disclose any facts regarding the details of the dice throw.) But Whetmore later has second thoughts and decides to back out of the plan. The other men, however, proceed to roll the dice, and as it happens, Whetmore’s number comes up, and “he was then put to death and eaten by his companions.” (Fuller, p. 9, in Suber, 1998.)
II. The Law
The applicable laws of the Commonwealth of Newgarth simply state: “Whoever shall willfully take the life of another shall be punished by death.” The text of the law makes no mention of self-defense or the defense of necessity.
III. Issue (Question Presented)
On these facts and statutory language, are Whetmore’s companions guilty of committing murder?
IV. Preliminary Analysis
Given these facts and given the statute, this should be an easy case to decide, right? Wrong! It turns out that one can generate any legal outcome (guilty or not guilty) depending on the theoretical or philosophical framework one applies to the facts and law of this case. Worse yet, in law there is no way of testing or deciding which outcome is the “correct” one. In a future post, building on the previous work of Lon Fuller (pictured below), Peter Suber, and others, we will enter the theoretical fray and write up our own legal analysis of this famous hypothetical case.