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Do we have ethical obligations to help others?

  1. Feb 26, 2004 #1
    Can we have ethical obligations to help others? Do we have have ethical obligations to help others?

    My take is that in a world in which one can remain causally unconnected to others or where one can live a life without doing harm to others, there is not much of a case that there is an inherent obligation to help others, although doing so would be a good idea (but not mandatory), as a society of helpers is overall more pleasurable for most people, and individual acts of kindness would be good, but not mandatory.

    However, in the world that we live in, it is impossible to live without somehow negatively affecting another being. One could then argue that, in order to make up for this, we incur an obligation to help others.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2004 #2


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    yes, i believe we have an ethical obligation to help others...to what degree though varies with each individual...to not help someone when you are conscious that they do need help is wrong in my opinion...
  4. Feb 27, 2004 #3
    That sounds kind of like penance for our sins. It would be kind of, better, if we had love and compassion, not because we owe a dept, but because we were just kind. Doing unto others as you would do unto yourself, could kind of be self motivated without payment.
  5. Feb 27, 2004 #4
    oh yeah right!!! "do unto other as you would do unto yourself"? I hope no masochist move into my neighbourhood in that case!!!

    what is that line in one of Metallica's songs?

    "One man's joy is another's hell"

    I dunno if they thought of it or picked it up somewhere but that is certainly true.

    As for being kind and self-motivated without payment, well, if humanity was mature enough for such a thing then communism would not fail.

    But no aspect of our animal inheritance has been yet surpressed.

    "Can we have ethical obligations to help others"?

    Well we make our own obligations.

    If world was populated only by pacifists, there would be no wars. But in our current situation, for that to become true, all of non-pacifists would have to be exterminated, and then there would logically be no pacifists left because they would turn into non-pacifists by killing previous non-pacifists. get it?:-)))

    We don't seem to have much choice about such issues.

    Thinking about altruism in a capitalistic world?

    Why don't we rather try to produce gold from coal. There's a larger possibility for success.
  6. Feb 27, 2004 #5
    I think people have an ethical obligation to hurt other people by any legal means possible in order to get themselves ahead in whatever way, this is the most practical approach if one doesn't much care about having any real friends, but then so what friends and marriages are easy to come by if one wants to see others this way, but then they may begin to see themselves this way as well, maybe that is why it "feels" better to help others out occasionally, in a way it may be a process of taking actions to create an understanding of value or some quality in others that one comes to find in themselves- reciprocity or empathy it's called, but then is it the truth or just an imaginarily created feeling I don't know, but it would seem that if a person could go through life and never grow "cold hearted" it would seem to be worth a few thousand hours. The strange thing is when I really listen without bias and seek to understand others they might just tell me anything and I think that is part of empathy or reciprocity but most of the time people are very very closed up and defensive becasue most of the time people will attack a weakness to make themselves feel better so that a person who is use to going out of their way to understand and help others if they can enjoys more truthful and intimate communication than the opposite and people tend to congregate with their likeness. Another more obvious example is when someone is angry if you can out will them and stay calm they will eventually calm down also, but if you correspond with anger then it escalates and becomes a reinforced cycle of mutually stimulating emotion arousal eventually reaching the point of getting angry about nothing... so the rule might be that what one expects and tries to find in others they may bring out in them and may also find in themselves as a bonus.
  7. Feb 28, 2004 #6
    This answer might shock you coming from me, but no, I disbelieve that there is any such thing as "ethical obligation" We may impose an "obligation" on ourselves, but truthfully, You behave "ethically" not "because" of anything. If we behave ethically because we feel obligated to, then it is not real or pure. True ethical behavior comes freely. If you are being kind to someone because you expect them to give you something in return, their friendship or their love, also, this is tainted kindness.

    This is a fact. The reason why kindness is so "kind" is because it is done without any motivation. If it were mandatory, and less rare, it would become commonplace and it would no longer feel so special.
  8. Feb 28, 2004 #7


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    "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" (in giving alms).
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