The Instigator
Pro (for)
1 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need.

Do you like this debate?NoYes+4
Add this debate to Google Add this debate to Delicious Add this debate to FaceBook Add this debate to Digg  
Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 1 vote the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/2/2011 Category: Society
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 6,406 times Debate No: 19620
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (17)
Votes (1)




Resolved: Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need.

This debate will take place in LD format. Arguments may include either data or clear philosophical warrants.


Alright, I accept these debate. Start when your ready
Debate Round No. 1


For clarity I offer the following definitions:

A moral obligation is defined as a particular duty which one is morally bound to do (Oxford English Dictionary)

Assisting is defined as increasing the net amount of happiness from an objective point of view. You should prefer this definition for the following reasons:

1. There are an infinite number of ways to assist people in need. Allowing me to defend only one specific form of assistance would give the Neg an impossible research burden because I can focus all my time researching one specific way of assisting while he has to spend his time researching the specific nuances of the almost limitless ways of assisting.

2. The text of the resolution doesn’t specify an actor, so we can’t determine aid from a subjective standpoint of one specific individual.

3. Pragmatism is the only way to determine whether something is really aid. If I sent a package of food to a society in Africa and it caused the massacre of a million innocent people, objectively we wouldn’t consider it aid because the harms outweighed the benefits.

Needs can be defined as the amount of food, clean water, adequate shelter, and access to health services to which every person is entitled (1).

All moral obligations ultimately arise from morality, which allows us to determine the extent to which an action is right or wrong. Thus, I value morality in this debate.

Only the consequences of one's conduct can be the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness of that conduct for the following reasons:

1. We establish general moral principles through our observations of specific real world events. Thus, we can only determine if any particular act is good or bad by evaluating the end states the action produces. For instance, we acknowledge that murdering others is wrong because of the consequences of death. Given that the idea of harm is determined by end states, it logically follows that we are obligated to positively influence those end states, justifying consequentialism.

2. Deontological theories cannot serve as a guide for action since they require us to act on certain principles regardless of how morally desirable the end states may be. Given that our observations advise courses of actions based on unique contexts, and given that we humans are instinctively inclined to follow the course of action that offers the highest probability of producing a desirable end, only consequential theories are consistent with morality’s ultimate purpose of serving as a guide for action.

Thus, to evaluate the morality of an action, we must look to its consequences.
The amount of happiness that an action produces is one of its most morally significant consequences. For the following reasons, we should judge our actions as morally right if and only if they maxamize the net amount of happiness:

1. Based on our own desires, we are rationally committed to believing that the general happiness is good.

As Sayre-McCord states,“Ultimately, the grounds we have for holding the beliefs we do must be traced back to our experiences, to our senses and desires. When what we are looking at appears red to us, we believe that the thing is red. Similarly, when we are desiring things, we believe that the thing is good, otherwise we wouldn’t be wanting it for ourselves. Desiring a thing and thinking of it as desirable are one and the same, just as seeing a thing as red and thinking of it as red are one and the same. Desiring somethingis a matter of seeing it as valuable” (2).

Therefore, when an individual desires his own happiness, there clearly must be something he sees as good about it. Whatever that feature is, it cannot be merely the fact that it’s his own happiness, since there are at least some things of his which are not valuable. However, any other feature which might give this individual’s happiness value will not be originally proprietary. That is, it will not be a feature which is specific to his happiness but rather a feature of happiness in general.

Thus, as Sayre-McCord concludes,“In desiring happiness, people are thinking “happiness [in general] is valuable” and, on that basis, wanting it for themselves [E]ach of us is, in desiring happiness for ourselves cannot deny that when someone else gets happiness they get something good. Of course we are not committed to thinking that their getting it would be benificial to us. Nevertheless, the grounds we each have for thinking it would be a good to us appear to commit us to thinking that in getting it, someone else would be getting something of value” (2).

Clearly, as this argument shows, everyone must see the general happiness as valuable. Since morality is essentially a code of values to guide an individual’s actions, all individuals are morally obliged to increase the general happiness.

Since all humans are morally equal, we must act to increase the total amount of happiness in society.

According to Rakowski, "Individuals’ status as moral equals requires that the number of people [who are happy] be maximized. Only in this way, can we give due weight to the equality of persons; to allow [a small number of people to be happy and a large number of people to suffer] is to treat some people as less valuable than others. It is because they are no less ends than others that an impartial decision-maker must favor the more numerous group" (3).

The very concept of morality depends on the existence of communities. Therefore, to uphold morality, individuals must take some actions which better the community as a whole.

As Wren states, “Being moral involves creating formulations which, upon being communicated to other agents, would be recognized and accepted by them. When a formulation is perceived as unacceptable, the agent who proposed it can only presume that it is wrong. In other words, moral valuation presupposes the existence of other agents because a totally isolated agent could not know his choices as good or his moral judgements as true. He could simply react to his environment, but [h]e wold not be able to evaluate what he was doing” (4).

Etzioni agrees. As he notes, "The libertarian perspective that individual agents are fully formed and their value preferences are in place prior to and outside of any society ignores robust social scientific evidence about the deep-seated human need for communal attachments, the social anchoring of reasoning itself, and the consistent interactive influence of society members on one another. There are no wellformed individuals bereft of social bonds or culture...Individuals' actions often reflect [social] values" (5).

Clearly, the very concept of morality can only exist within a society. This means that, if we wish to uphold morality, we must promote the well-being of our society. This includes increasing the general amount happiness.

As these three separate points imply, we are obligated to increase the amount of happiness from an objective point of view. Thus, my criterion is maximizing societal happiness.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, humans cannot be happy without our basic survival needs being met. For example, I could never feel happy about a good grade I earned in a class if I wasn’t able to feed myself. Thus, people in need are generally unhappy. By definition, assistance increases the net amount of happiness. Therefore, affirming the resolution is the best way to uphold the criterion of maximizing societal happiness.


1. "Meeting Basic Human Needs" by John McHale
2. "Mill's "Proof" of the Principle of Utility: A More than Half-Hearted Defense" by Geoffrey Sayre-McCord
3. "Taking and Saving Lives” by Rakowski
4. "Action, Intention, and Valuation" By Thomas E. Wren
5. "The Responsive Community: A Communitarian Perspective" by Amitai Etzioni



A quick road map, I will present my own case and then refer to my opponents.

I negate the resolution.Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need.

I acknowledge my opponets definitions and accept them into the round.

Value- libertarianism

Murray N. Rothbard 1977, the Journal of Libertarian Studies

The idea of this is that each person owns his or her own life and property, and has the right to make his own choices as to how he lives his life - as long as he simply respects the same right of others to do the same. Libertarianism is thus the combination of liberty (the freedom to live your life in any peaceful way you choose), responsibility (the prohibition against the use of force against others, except in defense), and tolerance (honoring and respecting the peaceful choices of others).

Criterion- Justice

James Konow, Ph.D. Professor Department of Economics Loyola Marymount University Journal of Economic Literature, 2003, vol. 41, issue 4, pages 1188

Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, and equity. In this, it is similar to the laws of physics: in the same way as the Third of Newton's laws of Motion requires that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction, justice requires according individuals or groups what they actually deserve, merit, or are entitled to. Justice, on this account, is a universal and absolute concept. Justice upholds the value by setting on how people should make there decisions. Unlike being based solely on morals which are not universal justice has many more influences.

Contention1- Moral Obligations do not exist
John Rowles 2006
A- That argument makes a separation between obligations and understanding. Essentially, if one understands another and their pain, a moral obligation is thus created. This means that it is not a moral obligation that we have to help people, but a problem of understanding. Some could then create a meaning or create an understanding that compels them to assist another. The logic then is flawed because it leaves understanding up to the individual as well as what assistance they are to act upon to fix what they understand. If that is the case, the overall goal would then never be accomplished. It thus places the power to define all relevant terms into each and every individual. This is counter productive because this would cause more harm then good. The reason for not having a moral obligation to assist a person in need would be because one can never truly understand whether or not the need is relevant or if the assistence is even fruitful.
B- The reason why people help is out of guilt
Philip Kain, Professor of Philosophy at Santa Clara University
"Understanding Guilt" 2008
Now my opponent my set up a elaborate explanation on why people help but here is how it works. In psychological terms, guilt is an emotional state in which one experiences conflict at having done something one believes one should not have done or, conversely, not having done something one believes one should have done. Adding to this it was found in a new York times article 2010 that 98% of people are affected by guilt and act upon it. Guilt as it was found was the number one reason why people help out others instead of doing it out of moral obligation.
C- There is not obligation because you have free will
Ayn Rand 1976
Humans are moral agents and that is a fact and because were are moral agents we have the ability to posses sentience and free will. Throughout our lives we are constantly learning and possessing new information to make better moral decisions. Because of this system of gathering and releasing we are able to practice free will in contrary to obligations. We can see this through the fact that if a stranger came up to you and told you that they needed sex, more than likely you would decline. This statement that we don't have a obligation at all.I would like to develop on this statement even further by rand by adding that sex would fall under a need since it is classified as a basic necessity.

Contention2- Moral obligations could be considered uncivil and immoral to people excluded or even included in the society where that moral system is practiced.
Ayn Rand 1976
The KKK was morally obligated to assist their fellow members by seeking out African Americans and exterminating them, adding to my first point that moral obligation is subjective. Basically, members of the KKK and Nazi Germany thought they were assisting others when they killed the African Americans or placed Jews in concentration camps. That was their moral obligation. Al-Qaeda requires that all infidels be killed because it is their obligation to annihilate them for their God. With this idea in mind, one will think that conforming to the moral ideals of a society and fulfilling said obligations would not really be a obligation at all but more of a belief. Plus if you were to help them in according to the affirmative world you would help them solely because you were obligated to, there would be no morals.

Now onto my opponets case.
My opponent states in his cas "All moral obligations ultimately arise from morality" but we can see from my contention 2 that morals are not universal. In fact they differ so much that what may seem immorall and illogical to use might be seen as a act of ethical morality case in proven my KKK example. His subpoints one and two both fall in the same manner. They only apply to a specific type of people. Another key hole in my opponets case would be "Judge". AS small as the word my seem, it shows that humans posses the ability to Choose from right or wrong and not actually be bound to it. Becouse of this his value falls BUT in my value "libertarinism" by its ability to expand max happineses, as my opponent might say, while still negating the resolution
Point1: Again i would like to just cross apply this to my attack on his value. Restating, the problem here is that it relies on making moral acts to increase happiness. What one considers moral or what one conidereds to make him happy are not universal so obviuosly this fails. An example would be a KKK member killing a african american to increase happiness.
Point2: Ill start of with a exempt from a report done by stanfrod section of philosphy " Everyone's happiness counts the same. When one maximizes the good, it is the good impartially considered. My good counts for no more than anyone else's good." This sounds alot like what my opponent said in his point 2"Since all humans are morally equal...happiness in society." With this in mind i would like to point out that this is what utilitarinism is. A key factor of util. is that people are not bounded in action and should act in whatever will maximize the greateast amount of good for the greateast amount of people. Since clearly there is no obligation this a neg argument, supporting the neg.
Point3: For space and effiency i will cross apply the arguments done in both point 1& 2 to this. Both the morality isnt universal, happinesses isnt a way to judge and the util argument.
I would like to start off with this exerpt from my opponents case " humans cannot be happy without our basic survival needs being met." and the author Maslow’s. This is in fact a argument the negative can use. Analized directly from Maslows righting it was stated that the basic needs are to "Avoid pain, Food, Water, Sleep and finally sex" I would simply just cross link this with my contention 1 point C stating that a person would not be obligated to give somebody sex even though it is a need and falls unto definition. I would also go on to say that you would need to complete sex to reach "happiness" which my opponent stands firmly on. Becouse of this his criterion fall which makes his value fall.

Debate Round No. 2


Attacking the Negative Case:


Some of the evidence I presented in my case directly clashes with my opponent’s value of libertarianism. As I explained, we humans have no way of discerning which actions are morally right or wrong until we evaluate the end states those actions produce. For example, we cannot know that killing someone is wrong until we assess the consequences of death. This means that the very idea of harm must be determined by end states, and two actions which lead to the same end state are equally wrong. Since my opponent did not respond to this argument, we must accept it as true in this debate.

Therefore, we must acknowledge that failing to give to those in need of life saving-aid is the moral equivalent to killing since they both result in the same end state of death. Choosing to end life would clearly be wrong in both cases. This means that we must reject my opponent’s value of libertarianism, which states that we’re free to do anything as long as we don't harm others. As I've shown, we must also give aid to those in need of food, water, shelter, health services, etc.

Criterion (Justice):

Justice is largely based on the principle of equality, which states that all humans are morally equal. However, the only way we can uphold this principle is to maximize societal happiness. As Rakowski explains, "Individuals’ status as moral equals requires that the number of people who are happy be maximized. Only in this way, can we give due weight to the equality of persons; to allow [a small number of people to be happy and a large number of people to suffer] is to treat some people as less valuable than others...”

To maximize societal happiness, we must provide aid to those in need. This means that affirming the resolution is the only way to uphold justice.

Contention 1:

My opponent contends that moral obligations cannot exist. This contention is inherently unfair since it places multiple burdens on the affirmative. Namely, it requires me to prove that moral obligations exist and demonstrate that individuals should assist those in need. However, in running this argument, the negative only has to meet one burden – proving that moral obligations don’t exist. Fairness is very important because debate is a competitive activity and ought to have fair rules. The ballot asks for who did the better debating, and such an evaluation is impossible in the prescience of unfair rules.

Sub Point A:

This argument relies on the premise that individuals cannot understand the specific needs of others. However, all people certainly can understand another individual’s need for food, water, etc. Most people can also identify when these needs are not being met. Thus, my opponent’s sub point A cannot be valid.

Sub Point B:

Under this sub-point, my opponent argues that people help others out of guilt. However, guilt is actually a direct response to having an obligation. As the Encyclopedia of Psychology states, guilt is defined as an emotion which occurs when a person realizes that he has violated a moral obligation. Therefore, when people act on their feelings of guilt, they’re essentially acting on a moral obligation. This means that my opponent’s argument about guilt can actually be taken as offense for the affirmative.

Sub Point C:

My opponent argues that we cannot have any obligations since we have a free will. However, there clearly ought to be some moral restrictions on our actions. For instance, all individuals must have a moral duty to refrain from murdering, stealing, cheating, etc. My opponent even appears to concede this point when he stated that we must be responsible and not use force against others.

Contention 2:

My opponent states that, “The KKK was morally obligated to assist their fellow members by seeking out African Americans and exterminating them....Al-Qaeda requires that all infidels be killed because it is their obligation to annihilate them for their God. With this idea in mind, one will think that conforming to the moral obligations of a society of a belief.”

These radical groups weren’t acting on valid moral laws, so they were not performing those horrendous acts out of an actual moral obligation to do so.

All valid moral laws must be universal, meaning they must apply equally to all individuals. To believe otherwise would create unequal moral burdens for different individuals. However, this would violate the fundamental principles of justice and equality.

As Pettit explains, “Every prescription as to what an agent ought to do should be capable of being universalized, so that it applies not just to that particular agent. If we think that it is right for one agent in one circumstance to act in a certain way, but wrong for another, then we commit ourselves to there being some descriptive moral inequality between the two cases. Thus, if we say that an agent A ought to choose option O then we should assume that something similar would hold for any similarly placed agent since the particular identity of agent A is relevant to what A ought to do.”

Therefore, a valid moral system must be capable of being universalized. That is, it must have the potential to apply to everyone. Only systems of morality which are based on logic can fulfill this burden since any other source of authority would not be universal.

The beliefs of Al-Qaeda, Nazi Germany and the KKK were inherently illogical since they relied on false premises. Thus, their beliefs cannot be considered valid moral laws. For this reason, when these groups acted on their beliefs, they were not acting on an actual moral obligation. This renders my opponent’s attack on the legitimacy of moral obligations as ineffective while also supporting my case (which is based on solid reasoning).

Defending the Affirmative Case:


My opponent argues against by value of morality by noting that some moral beliefs are not universal. However, as I explained, all valid moral laws are based on logic and can apply to everyone. Some groups may violate their obligations to follow these laws, but this cannot disprove the fact that they exist.

In response to my value, the negative also claims, “Humans possess the ability to Choose from right or wrong and not actually be bound to it.”

This objection seems to arise over a false understanding of what a moral obligation is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a moral obligation is defined as a particular duty which one is morally bound to do. This means that a moral obligation isn’t something which we’re forced to conform to. Rather, a moral obligation is something we must conform to only if we wish to be moral. In other words, moral obligations are only morally binding, not absolutely binding.


To counter my criterion, the negative argues that people cannot be happy unless all of their basic needs, including sex, are met. However, this is not true. As Maslow believed, one only needs to have the majority of their basic needs met in order to be happy.

Sub Point 1:

To counter this point, the negative argues that moral beliefs differ between societies. However, as I explained above, valid moral laws can apply to everyone since they're based on logical premises. Of course, some groups will violate their obligations to follow these laws, but this cannot disprove the fact that they exist.

Sub Point 2:

In response to the second sub point my opponent states, “A key factor of util. is that people are not bounded in action and should act in whatever will maximize the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people...[C]learly there is no obligation.”

This objection is nonsensical. A moral obligation is a duty which one must perform if they wish to be moral. Therefore, if we should maximize the overall well being we would indeed have a moral obligation to do so.

Sub Point 3:

To counter this argument, my opponent once again stated that morals aren't universal. However, as I’ve explained before, valid moral laws will apply to everyone.



pokemontea1 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


Extend all my arguments.



pokemontea1 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
17 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by QT 6 years ago
That's fine.
Posted by pokemontea1 6 years ago
SSorry for the late reply. I will not be able to rebute till tommorow. I'm.sorry for any incoveinence.
Posted by pokemontea1 6 years ago
Its all good.
Posted by QT 6 years ago
Sorry for the late response :(
Posted by QT 6 years ago
Nope. That's good.
Posted by pokemontea1 6 years ago
Yes. Shall I expand?
Posted by QT 6 years ago
FYI, the three main points in my case were supporting my criterion and not my value.
Posted by QT 6 years ago
Under your sub-point C, are you claiming that we cannot be obligated to do anything since we always have free choice?
Posted by QT 6 years ago
Under your sub-point A, are you arguing that individuals cannot understand the specific needs of others'?
Posted by QT 6 years ago
In defending libertarianism, are you denying the existence of positive obligations?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by jm_notguilty 6 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:--Vote Checkmark3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:10 
Reasons for voting decision: ff