Friday, July 22, 2016

Moral Obligation and Helping Others

From guest blogger, Alex.

In class we discussed the topic of our moral obligation to others. A fundamental question to ask is, “do we have a moral obligation to help others?”, even those we may not know. If we do have such obligations, then there are also questions about the foundation, nature and extent of these obligations. If we do not have such obligations, then there is the obvious question about why there are no such obligations. I think that a good argument for the fact that we all have moral obligations to others is to use the method of reversing the situation. This is based on the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and the basic idea is that consistency requires that a person treat others as she would wish to be treated. To make the method work, a person would need to want others to act as if they had obligations to her and this would thus obligate the person to act as if she had obligations to them. For example, if I would want someone to help me if I were struck by a car and bleeding out in the street, then consistency would require that I accept the same obligation on my part. That is, if I accept that I should be helped, then consistency requires that I must accept I should help others. This approach is somewhat like that taken by Kant. He argues that because a person necessarily regards herself as an end (and not just a means to an end), then she must also regard others as ends and not merely as means.  He tries to use this to argue in favor of various obligations and duties, such as helping others in need. I can think of, unfortunately, a counter to this sort of approach. It is easy enough to imagine a person who is willing to forgo the assistance of others and as such can consistently refuse to accept obligations to others. So, for example, a person might be willing to starve rather than accept assistance from other people. While such people might seem a bit crazy, if they are sincere then they cannot be accused of inconsistency. What do you guys think? Do we have a moral obligation to help others, even if we don’t know them? If so, why? If we don’t have any obligations, why not? Thanks.

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