The Desert Island Legacy


“Suppose, for example, that you and another person are shipwrecked on a desert island and the other person is dying. Before he dies, he gives you a sum of money and makes you promise that, if you are rescued, you will give the money to a certain Austin Jones, his unacknowledged illegitimate son. You promise; he dies content; and shortly afterward you are rescued. On returning home, you discover that Jones is a well-off but extremely selfish man and it becomes immediately clear to you that much more good would come of the money were it to go to some useful charity rather than to Jones. What should you do?”

G. Harman, The Nature of Morality, Ch.13


4 Responses to “The Desert Island Legacy”

  1. An oath is an oath.

  2. Do you mean to imply that we should never break an oath? To obliquely call an oath an oath is clearly tautologous.

  3. Rob,

    Yes I mean that we shouldn’t break our oaths.

  4. 4 jgnat

    I know the legal answer. A will is to be respected regardless. Why? You cannot go back in time and confirm the bequestor’s original intent. We must take their words at face value. We do not know if he intended to give the money with conditions. On the other hand, how would he ever know? His wishes are between him and you. So really, the burden of choice is on you alone. Can you live with yourself knowing that you have failed to live up to your word? I think the failure to live up to your own moral code is the true cost, and should not be given away lightly.

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