Just Deserts

Whether you’re waking up to a new lockdown, or having to carry on as if there isn’t one, being marooned on a desert island like the characters in this story is unusually appealing at the moment. I’ve been using it as part of a session about punishments and rewards at p4he.org this week.

There’s a philosophical question just over half-way through and another at the end. Enjoy discussing it wherever you and your learners are. 

Just Desert

Victoria, Ophelia and Judy were sailing their yacht across the Pacific, when it was boarded by pirates. Luckily for them, it was September 19th, International Talk Like a Pirate Day. So, in an act of mercy, instead of making them walk the plank, they marooned them on a desert island. They left each of them a bar of chocolate as a goodwill gesture.

Their lives on the island will be long. Partly because there’s plenty of healthy food to forage, and nothing much to do except swim, walk, run and catch fish. But also because this is my story, and I say so. For the same reason, they will never be rescued.  

Each treasures her bar of chocolate, her sole remaining link with the outside world. They decide that each will eat her whole bar of chocolate on her birthday, and need not share it with anyone else.  

Ophelia’s birthday comes first. She devours her bar in one flood of flavour. Judy’s birthday is next. She savours her chocolate the whole day long, taking miniscule nibbles at regular intervals so that the taste of chocolate lingers continuously from early light to delicious dusk.  

Last, it’s Victoria’s turn. She is still deciding whether to cram or to nibble, when she realizes to her horror that THE WRAPPER IS EMPTY. From Ophelia’s blushes, she has no doubt who is responsible. “Soz,” says Ophelia. “It was totes delish.”   Victoria is outraged. She demands justice: Ophelia, meanwhile, can’t see the point of her being punished at all. It’s not like there are any more chocolate bars she could steal in their long future of unlimited fish and coconuts. Victoria, the victim, thinks Ophelia the offender must be punished; Ophelia disagrees. It’s 1 all, so they turn to Judy to settle the case. What should judge, Judy, decide?
Almost a year later, when the chocolate scandal is a distant memory, Judy’s birthday comes round again.  

Victoria says, “Judy is such a lovely person. She’s always doing more than her share of the work, and she’s always so kind to us both. I think we should do something really special for her birthday. Let’s make her Queen of the Island for the day, and do whatever she orders!”  

Ophelia replies, “Yes, Judy is a lovely person. But that’s just it. All the kind things she does just come naturally to her, because that’s the sort of person she is. She doesn’t have to make a special effort. It’s just Judy being Judy. I don’t get to be Queen of the Island on my birthday for just being myself, and neither should she.”  

Who do you agree with, and why?

Best wishes,  


P.S. Practically-minded students may want to know how they prevent the chocolate from melting. They bury it at least 50cm underground, where the soil temperature, though isohyperthermic (steady but high) varies between 20.5 degrees centigrade and 25.5, always lower than the melting point of chocolate which is between 30 and 32 degrees. [Source: R . J. Morrison, Pacific Atoll Soils: Chemistry, Mineralogy and Classification in the 
Atoll Research Bulletin No. 339] So there!

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