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Life of Pi & Speluncean Explorers: a Reaction Paper

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Submitted By Sanjuktha
Words 1496
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Life of Pi & Speluncean Explorers: A Reaction Paper

In the light of this most recent event of cannibalism, the question of right and wrong has arisen once again. A young boy by the name of Piscine Molitor Patel experienced a shipwreck, where he was later stranded on a lifeboat with his mother, a French cook and a Taiwanese sailor. They drift for several weeks before the cook butchers Pi’s mother and the sailor and eats parts of their flesh. Left alone with the cook, Pi stabs him to death and eats his heart and liver.

The facts of the case stated above are a reminder of the precedent case of the Speluncean Explorers. In the case of the Speluncean Explorers five men who ventured out to explore caves, happened to get trapped in one for many days. As the days passed the men were getting frantic and decided that their best chance of survival was if one of them sacrificed their lives in order for the others to feast on him. Subsequently, Roger Whetmore the man who initiated the idea was killed and fed upon by his fellow explorers. When the other four were finally rescued and brought back to civilization, they were tried by the court of Newgarth and were convicted for the murder of Roger Whetmore and were sentenced to be hanged.

On reading the facts of the cases we can draw strings of both similarities and differences. If we were to go with the ruling of the precedent case even if we might not agree with the decision then this would be an open and shut case where Pi would be convicted. Referring to Judge Tatting who was in a similar dilemma with his thoughts said, “Is this a situation where a line of reasoning not originally proper has become sanctioned by precedent, so that we are permitted to apply it and may even be under obligation to do so?” Instead if we were to look at this case from a moral standpoint, we can see differences arising from both cases.

In my opinion I would deem what the four explorers did as morally incorrect but what Pi did as correct. My reasoning to this statement is in the following points; Pi’s act of killing the French cook was in self-defense, unlike in the case of the Speluncean explorers. The French cook took the life of Pi’s mother and the Taiwanese sailor and in accordance to these events Pi would most likely have been the next in line. To save his own skin Pi killed the cook for two reasons; to avoid death by the cook and the other to avoid death from starvation. Justice Foster in his reasoning of the Speluncean case argues that the men were innocent due to self-defense.

The dire condition that Pi found himself in was one of the rarest of the rarest cases. The “state of nature” which Justice Foster talks about can be applied here. Pi and his fellow shipwreck mates were in the midst of the ocean, having no contact with the civilized world containing society, government and laws. Therefore we can come to the conclusion that the acts that were committed by Pi were out of the jurisdiction of civil society because law is only in place when men can coexist, once men cease to coexist then even the laws cease to coexist.

Moreover how are we to question the very primeval and instinctual behaviour of man? If he finds himself in a situation where he has to rely on his most basic instincts, why should actions be questioned then? It is instinctual so as to keep himself alive and that’s what Pi does in this situation. He utilises his animalistic behaviour to stay alive in this uncivilized situation that he was in and hence is acceptable. In the case of the Speluncean explorers, there were five of them who even after a long time in harsh conditions were relatively sane in a manner in which they could still think up of possibilities to stay alive. They thought that drawing lots and choosing one to sacrifice their life for the others would be a good idea. This could also be seen as a contract that was drawn up amongst these people in this uncivilized jurisdiction of the courts. This drawing up of the contract shows that they had not regressed to the state of animalistic sense and hence their actions cannot be looked upon as instinctual behaviour.

Having gone through what Pi has gone through we can only imagine the trauma and shock that Pi is in. He witnessed not only a shipwreck where he saw most of his life sink before his eyes, but also saw the killing of his mother. Morally looking at it, we can say that Pi has experienced enough of a punishment with what he has been through and doesn’t need to be convicted by any court of justice. To kill someone intentionally doesn’t leave the person in a state of flux, but in the case of Pi, he had to kill in order for his own existence regardless of his intention.

Looking at Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we can see that morality comes high up on the pyramid. How then can we expect Pi to have thought of the morality of his actions when not having satisfied his needs in the lower rungs of the pyramid? His need for shelter, food, love and affection were never achieved and he was struggling for survival, so his actions were for survival.

I would like to reiterate my point that I believe what Pi did was morally correct and that if I were in his place I would more or less conduct myself in the same manner as he did. Also we should give him credit for having the will power to do the things he did and mange to find his way back to civilization.

The law that was considered during the precedent case was “ Whoever shall wilfully take the life of another shall be punished by death” , since that time we can see that the interpretation of the law has changed. In the words of Justice Foster, “Man may break the letter of the law without breaking the law itself” – we can deduce that a man may break the literal words that are written in the statutes, but under the circumstances he might not have broken the law. For example, the offence committed was wilful and criminal but the circumstances of self-defence are not incorporated in the statute. Laws should be interpreted in a manner in which it is most adaptable to the situation.

To generalize a law for something as sensitive as cannibalism in our world today is like trying to come up with one uniform religion amongst the people. It is highly impossible and you cannot regard all the different aspects into one religion. Same goes to cannibalism where different sects of the world perceive this act in varied ways. People of the West seem to think that cannibalism is barbaric and inhumane; laws are strictly put in place to deter those who might divulge in cannibalistic acts. Over the course of time, we have tried to tame our animalistic instincts and become a ‘civilized’ society, which condemns the act of eating human flesh as we are of a superior species in the animal kingdom. This is not the case in many parts of the world though. The first known modern accounts of cannibalism were reported following Columbus’ expedition to the West Indies. At this point cannibalism was considered atrocious and sacrilegious in the developed world. Imagine, if you will, the indescribable horror that the first Europeans felt when they witnessed Carib natives during a post war ritual chewing and/or eating human flesh.

Another account of cannibalism is in the British Royal, where they ate mummified parts of the human body in an attempt of medicinal cannibalism. They believed that by consuming parts of the human body, ailments and illnesses could be cured. The most recent accounts of this can be traced to the 18th century. Some of the royalty that indulged in this practice are Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent, Robert Boyle, Thomas Willis, William III, and Queen Mary.

With the examples given above we can see that the same act of cannibalism has many meanings to various groups of people. Therefore to use the case of the Speluncean Explorers as a case of precedence might be incorrect in this recent case as there are many differences. Pi in my opinion is innocent as he did what was necessary for him to do to stay alive. What he did was morally just and each case comes with its own perplexities and these two cases given to us are in fact the most extraordinary cases that I have come across, so we have to treat them individually in their own stride.

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