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.
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.
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?
- As you walk past a public park, you see a child sitting in the sand alone, crying.
- An apparent purse snatcher is running down the sidewalk toward you, chased by a woman yelling, "Stop him! Stop him!"
- A man across the street is pushing a stroller. His child tosses a doll over the side of the stroller, but the man does not notice and keeps walking.
- It’s the middle of the night and your baby is crying. It’s your turn to take care of her, but if you pretend to be asleep your husband will take care of it. You have a business meeting in the morning.
- You witness a traffic accident in which one driver was obviously at fault. Stopping to make sure everyone is all right and give your contact information might help the victim make a claim with their insurance company, but it would make you late for work.
- You overhear a salesperson in an electronics store trying to convince a customer to buy equipment that you know to be inferior.
- You find a bag from a local doughnut shop lying on the sidewalk. There is more than $300 in small, used bills and change inside.
- You hate giving blood, but have a very desirable blood type.
- A man has fallen off of his bicycle and broken his leg. You notice that it’s the man your wife left you for.
- A coworker offers to drive you home from work, but after you get in the car you realize that he’s been drinking. Before you can get out of the car, the police pull you over. If you quickly switch seats with your friend, you might be able to convince the police that you were driving. Because of past offenses, your friend could go to jail if convicted of drunk driving.
- After an earthquake, you see people struggling to escape from a broken elevator. They could get out more quickly with your help, but if the elevator suddenly shifts you could be killed.
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 LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.