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

Individuals have a moral obligation to assist those in need

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 2/4/2016 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 913 times Debate No: 86068
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (1)
Votes (2)




This is for Fire_Wing's tournament.

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

I'm affirming, he's negating. First round acceptance. No new args in the final round.


Alright, Zaradi. I accept this debate. I look forward to an interesting debate and wish you good luck.

Also, please go easy on me. Ha, joking :).
Debate Round No. 1


FIRST: Presume aff because it would be worse to negate and be wrong than affirm and be wrong because the duties denied and ignored would be insurmountable violations.

SECOND: Moral obligations are distinct from legal obligations, in that an agent need not be able to act on a duty to have a moral obligation. Lectric Law Library[1]:

  • “[A moral obligation is] A duty which one… ought to perform, not legally bound to fulfill. …the obligation to be charitable…can never be enforced by law. … it subsists in morality and conscience; but … the moral obligation is a sufficient consideration for the promise”

This delinks over demandingness and means the possession of a moral obligation can occur absent possibility to fulfill so implementation is irrelevant.

I advocate the metaethical theory of naturalism which says that moral facts are empirical facts and ethics must be grounded in the laws of nature. This is justified because:

FIRST: basic laws of physic confirm that only ethics cannot arise out of intuition or abstract principles. Naturalism is the only coherent metaethic. Papineau[2]:

  • “the conservation of energy does imply that … if mental or vital forces arose spontaneously, then there would be nothing to ensure that they never led to energy increases. …Detailed physiological research, especially into nerve cells, gave no indication of any physical effects that cannot be explained in terms of basic physical forces that also occur outside living bodies. we should identify mental states with brain states, for otherwise those mental states would be "nomological danglers" which play no role in the explanation of behaviour. …since the only laws governing behaviour are those connecting behaviour with physical antecedents, mental events can only be causes of behaviour if they are identical with those physical antecedents.”
SECOND: Naturalism best accounts for moral motivation and supervenience. Papineau[2]:
  • “First …non-natural moral facts could [not] have any motivating force … if such facts are incapable of having effects of any kind, they will a fortiori be incapable of motivating human beings. [second,] intuition … demand[s] that two situations that are identical with respect to physical properties will also be morally identical. … this will follow from … naturalist principles. Non-naturalists, by contrast, … lack any … explanation of why moral facts should so supervene on physical facts”
THIRD: epistemologically naturalism is the only coherent theory because we can only know through empirical and physical thoughts. Dewey[3]:
  • “Pragmatism believes that in knowledge as a fact, an accomplished matter, things are 'representative of one another,' … Ideas, sensations, mental states, are, in their cognitive significance, … that they become representative of one another. When this is accomplished, they drop out' … States of consciousness' refer to getting knowledge; to the situation when things as objective fail us; have … gone back on us; when accordingly we neither have them to know nor yet to know with. It is in this situation, and only in this situation, that 'states of consciousness' exist or have meaning, cognitively speaking … States of consciousness, sensations and ideas as cognitive, exist as tools, bridges, cues, functions -whatever one pleases-to affect … Known things, as known, are direct presentations … pragmatism carries with it a reinterpretation, and a realistic interpretation, of 'states of consciousness' as representations. They are practically or effectively, not transcendentally, representative.”

Moreover, we must derive an “ought” from an “is” to avoid infinite regression by grounding our claims somewhere. Otherwise we could always ask why we ought to perform a prescribed task.

If naturalism is true then that leads to the normative conclusion that ethics must be grounded in empathy and being consistent with empathic responses. Thus the standard is engaging empathically with people because:

FIRST: Every neural perception and empirical claim is based on being consistent with empathy. Mirror neurons and multiple neuroscientific studies proves. Preston and Waal[4]:
  • “mirror neurons” … represent goal-directed actions, allowing individuals to understand and imitate the actions of others. In a brain-imaging study using … (PET), observing an action with the intent to imitate it activated the areas used in planning and performing the actions … In an fMRI study, the left inferior frontal cortex and the rostral-most part of the right superior parietal lobule were activated when subjects observed a finger movement and when initiating the same movement under different conditions. … The results … support … “direct matching” hypotheses of perception and action. … These shared representations for perception and action are also activated when a movement is imagined … evidence supports a common representation for mental and manual rotation. RTs for imagining and performing a rotation movement are virtually identical …”
SECOND: Other theories of the brain miss the crucial point. Literally every neuro function is based on empathy. If we reject empathy or don’t engage in empathic engagement every other sense of perception is flawed and negative. Preston and Waal[4]:
  • “A process … makes empathy a … category that includes all subclasses of phenomena that share the same mechanism. This includes emotional contagion, sympathy, cognitive empathy, helping behavior, … This process model also links empathy to all facilitation behaviors that rely on perception- action … A Perception-Action Model of empathy specifically states that attended perception of the object’s state automatically activates the subject’s representations of the state, situation, and object, and that activation of these representations automatically primes or generates the associated autonomic on their interdependence or interrelationship. Interdependence can be temporary and superficial, like when the subject and object must cooperate for a local goal or when the object’s distress blocks the goal of the subject.”
THIRD: abstract theories of ethics such as contractarianism try to locate moral truths in the a priori deductions of practical reason. However, since all facts are scientific facts, and all scientific facts are known only by experience, there are no a priori side constraints in nature.

And empathy doesn’t have to be grounded in actions, under my interpretation it is grounded in brain function.

Thus the affirmative burden is to show that within empathic engagement we are morally obligated to assist. I content that empathy requires a moral obligation to those in need.

FIRST: Empathy is the basis of self-sacrifice. We are 100% obligated based on our empathic nature. Olson[5]:

  • “empathy contribute robust empirical evidence … for organizing … societies … consistent with … care, effort, responsibility, courage and respect. … reciprocity mandates equality and an end to exploitation and oppression, it follows that “a just, compassionate treatment of other people is on the grand scale of things one of the conditions for one’s own thriving.” … human nature … has the capacity to lead to … sacrifice, and support, and solidarity, and tremendous courage, … The critical question is … to realize a form of global environment that enhances the opportunity for the empathic aspect of our nature to flourish.”
SECOND: We cannot reject an obligation because that is an individualistic approach that rejects empathy. Strong reciprocity subsists in all human consciousness, driving us to reward altruism and punish non-altrusim even at personal cost. Gintis et al[6]:
  • “a compellingly large body of research suggest[s] …Strong Reciprocity[, or] …a propensity … to cooperate with others similarly disposed,even at personal cost, and a willingness to punish those who violate cooperative norms, even when punishing is personally costly. …this ‘‘reciprocity’’ …embraces an ethic of treating others as they treat us, bestowing favors on those who cooperate with us, and punishing those who take advantage of our largesse. …Strong reciprocity is a universal structure of human morality. …”
THIRD: our natural empathy makes us altruistic. Ruse[7]:
  • “competition for limited resources …does not imply that there will always be … ongoing …combat. …much more personal benefit can … be achieved through a process of cooperation … Humans … benefit biologically from cooperation … and … moral altruism is the way in which we achieve that end … evolution has filled us full of thoughts about right and wrong, the need to help our fellows …Thus we have evolved innate mental dispositions … inclining us to cooperate, in the name of … morality … our altruistic nature, is … a cost-effective way of getting us to cooperate, which avoids both the pitfalls of blind action and the expense of … pure rationality.”


[1] -
[2] - David Papineau, “Naturalism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007.
[3] - John Dewey The Realism of Pragmatism The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods Vol. 2, No. 12 (Jun. 8, 1905), pp. 324-327. Jstor.
[4] - Stephanie D. Prestonand Frans B. M. de Waal. Empathy: Its ultimate and proximate bases. BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2002) 25, 1–72.
[5] - Gary Olson. From Mirror Neurons to Moral Neuropolitics. PDF is online.
[6] - H. Gintis, Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico and, The Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, J. Henrich, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, S. Bowles, Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM, USA, R. Boyd, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA, E. Fehr, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, Soc Just Res 2008, “Strong Reciprocity and the Roots of Human Morality”
[7] - Ruse (Michael Ruse, professor of history and philosophy, University of Guelph, Ontario, 1986 by the Joint Publication Board of Zygon, “Evolutionary Ethics: A Phoenix Arisen”)



I'm afraid that I cannot rebut everything that Zaradi has said. I could rebut certain things, but the rest of the things Zaradi I cannot find rebuttals for (probably because philosophy is a complicated and new thing to me). I am thus, forfeiting this debate. I had no business joining this tournament nor did I have a chance against the top debaters on this site nor did I have any business debating a topic pertaining to philosophy, a field in which I have no experience in. I am deeply sorry for wasting your time, my time and just being an idiot. It's hard to describe how bad I feel about this. Sorry, and vote Pro.
Debate Round No. 2


I would tell him not to randomly give up debates until he's at least tried, but he deactivated :/


EAT_IT_SUKA forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


Extend I guess :/


EAT_IT_SUKA forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by fire_wings 2 years ago
Zaradi wins.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by U.n 2 years ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Con conceded defeat and abandoned the debate.
Vote Placed by ColeTrain 2 years ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Concession by Con & forfeiture. It's a shame, particularly because Zaradi outlined a good case. I might provide an "RFD" later (or just a critique) of the case if time permits. It's a shame for all his work to go to naught.