Am I Morally Obligated to Help Others?


I shouldn’t have to go out of my way to help someone else if I don’t feel like it.

Q1 Analysis

This is not a Q1 violation if you either don’t think that there is an ethical obligation to help others when possible or you consider your inconvenience to be morally more significant than another person’s need for assistance.

Q2 Analysis

This is not a Q2 violation unless you would expect others to come to your aid in similar circumstances.


Most people would want aid in a time of need, so by Q2 they are obligated to aid others who are in need. However, there are some situations in which most people would not want to be obligated to help another, and therefore they cannot demand aid in such a situation.

Generally, people weigh their personal risk or potential loss against the risk or potential loss of the person needing aid and make a judgment call. For example, if you were not an experienced climber and a stranger asked you climb down a cliff face to an outcrop to retrieve a sandwich she’d dropped, your risk is far greater than her potential benefit and you would be justified in declining. On the other hand, if you saw a child about to step into the street and could stop her by calling out but don’t do so because you can’t be bothered, you would be almost universally condemned as immoral. If you allowed the accident to happen because you thought it might be interesting to see a child hit by a car, you’d even be called evil.

Most people would agree that you have a right to protect your interests and your health. Those who help others while significantly risking their interests or health are considered heroic because it is generally acknowledged that they are not obligated to do so. Similarly, those who do not act in situations where they would reasonably expect others to act are generally looked down upon as selfish or cowardly.

Consider these situations. In which would you feel obligated to go to someone’s aid? In which would rendering aid either be heroic or not be the best choice?

You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at and See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.

Posted on August 3, 2010 at 10:25 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: 2Q

One Response

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  1. Written by Zach
    on August 3, 2010 at 2:59 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    1. If that’s all you know of the child’s situation (that he/she is sitting alone and crying), then I don’t think you are morally obligated either way. You could walk over and ask what was wrong, but on the other hand the child’s parent could be watching and be scared that a stranger was talking to his/her child.

    2. Depends on the risk to you. If you are a 6’8″ bodybuilder and the thief is a scrawny kid without a weapon, then I think you are morally obligated to do something. Vice versa, and you aren’t.

    3. Again, no moral obligation. If the child loses her doll because of this, then she learns that she can’t throw her stuff around. That being said, it does seem like the neighborly thing to do to say something.

    4. No moral obligation either way; however, your marriage will probably go better if you don’t wait for your husband to wake up, especially since it is “your turn”.

    5. Depends on the risk to you. If you being late for work means that your boss yells at you, then I think you have a moral obligation to stop and help in the little way that you can. If you being late to work means you will lose your job and your family will become homeless and your children will die of starvation, then you have no moral duty to stop.

    6. I’m not so sure that you have a moral duty to tell the potential customer of your bad experience, but it would be the neighborly thing to do. To some extent, it depends on what it is and what your problem with it was. For example, if the item in question is a camera that overheated its battery compartment, causing battery acid to spray everywhere, you have much more of a duty to tell the potential customer than if it is a pair of earbuds that let in a lot of outside noise.

    7. You have a moral duty to try and find the person who left the money. If you can’t, then you can keep it, but you should try.

    8. Unless there is a physical danger to you, I think you do have a moral duty to give blood. How much of a duty you have depends on exactly how desirable your blood is.

    9. If the only reason you have to not help him is that your wife left you for him, that’s a bad reason, and you still have just as much of a moral duty to help as before.

    10. It is your moral duty not to switch seats with your friend. In fact, I wouldn’t disagree if someone said it would be your moral duty to report your friend even if the police didn’t catch him.

    11. Because of the risk to you, you do not have a moral duty to help, and if you did, that would be heroic.

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