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Individuals have a moral obligation to assist those in need

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/6/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,128 times Debate No: 20247
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RESOLVED: Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need.
The negation stands on the opposing side of this resolution due to its violation of the Social Contract as well as it's obstruction to justice by forcing individuals to sacrifice themselves for the well-being of others.


Freedom is defined as the quality or state of being free and the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. The resolution coerces individuals to perform an action that may or may not be out of their own free will. In order to preserve justice within society, and this resolution, the value of freedom must also be preserved.

Moral obligation - an obligation arising out of considerations of right and wrong or out of one's morals
Obligation - The condition of being morally or legally bound to do something
Assist - to give support or aid to
In need - A condition or situation in which something is required or wanted
All definitions obtained from Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

CONT I - Helping people shouldn't be an obligated action, we must not confuse sympathy with obligation
A. Aid shouldn't be an obligated action
Jan Narveso [Department of Philosophy, University of Waterloo] "Is World Poverty a Moral Problem for the Wealthy?" The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 8, No. 4 2004.
A much greater factor is simple general human sympathy. Insofar as people are suffering, most of us are sorry to see this, are affected, and may be moved to try to help. But that factor is most obviously relevant in situations of aid, not of poverty. The world's very poor are often very sick, have short life expectancies and high infant mortality, and that is sad. Justice does not require that we improve their situations, though sympathy recommends it. So, for that matter, does a more general interest in good relations with all and sundry. But poverty is a more endemic, basic, enduring sort of thing. For it, "aid" is not the appropriate remedy.

B. Confusing "sympathy" versus obligation is a dangerous notion
The things we might be able to do 10 help such people probably will not consist in sending them a check - though it possibly might, for that matter - but there might be other things some of us can do, and it will be just as true that we "ought" to do those things as that we "ought" to go out and help improve the incomes of the very poor. Which, in both cases is not that it is our moral obligation to do them, but that it would be good of us to do so would contribute to our level of moral virtue, if we want to talk that way? And [his is no trivial matter. Sympathy is an important human capacity, and it should be cultivated, not crushed. For that matter, one way to crush it is to confuse it with justice, leaving the sympathetic out in the cold with the bureaucrats who compel their support rather than solicit their sympathetic responses.

CONT II – Such an obligation violates the Social Contract and would result in legal disasters
H. M. Malm "Bad Samaritan Laws: Harm, Help, or Hype?" Law and Philosophy, Vol. 19, No. 6, 2000.
Steven Heyman argues that the "strongest basis for a legal duty to rescue is to be found not in morality but in the obligations of citizenship. The government is formed to protect its citizens against violence" and in exchange for this protection, citizens are obliged to "assist the government in enforcing the laws" against violence.' But Heyman's arguments are not likely to be widely convincing. One problem is that even if the government's role has evolved into doing more than providing protection against violence, we can't infer from this that it ought to have so evolved nor, more significantly, that citizens have a duty to assist it in every function that it now covers. Providing education to minors is widely regarded as a proper function of government, but it doesn't follow from this that every citizen has a duty to assist in this function other than by paying their taxes.

Joshua Dressler [Prof. of Law McGeorge School of Law] "Some Brief Thoughts (Mostly Negative) About "Bad Samaritan" Laws" Santa Clara Law Review. Vol. 40, 199-2000, p. 985-6
First, if such laws are taken seriously, the costs of investigating and potentially prosecuting bystanders might be prohibitive. Second, to the extent that BS statutes are narrowly drafted to reduce the risk of unfairness, prosecutions are likely to be rare (and convictions even rarer). Therefore, it is unlikely that the threat of punishment will have the desired effect of inducing bystanders to help persons in peril. The muted threat of a misdemeanor conviction is less likely to promote good behavior than the threat of public scorn that follows the publicity of such cases, or a Samaritan's own conscience. Third, to the extent that such laws do, in fact, compel "Good Samaritanism," there is a risk that the Samaritan will hurt the person she is trying to assist, hurt others in the process, or unforeseeably harm herself. Fourth, since BS statutes are not linked to any prevention-of-harm causal requirement the costs of such laws may easily outweigh their limited practical benefits.

Joshua Dressler [Prof. of Law McGeorge School of Law] "Some Brief Thoughts (Mostly Negative) About "Bad Samaritan" Laws" Santa Clara Law Review. Vol. 40, 199-2000, p. 981-2
The name suggests, I think, that we punish the bystander for being a bad person that caused him not to come to the aid of a person in need. However, the criminal law should not be used that way: criminal law punishes individuals for their culpable acts (or, perhaps here, culpable non-acts), but not generally for bad character. One need only consider David Cash and the public's intense feelings of disgust and anger toward him to appreciate why jurors might convict Bad Samaritans less on the basis of the "technicalities" of a statute, and more on the basis of character evaluation.

I hope a great opponent!


I will begin by giving my case, going over framework clash, and then briefly hitting on my opponents case.


Individuals – defined as individual people, or groups of people. (Merriam-webster, Biology-online)

Assisting people in need – is simply defined to be ethical treatment of those who are in need of it

My paramount value in today's debate is

V: Human Dignity

Human Dignity is a term used in moral, ethical, and political discussions to signify that a being has an innate right to ethical treatment

Human dignity is important because it is the foundation of a humane society.

(Myres S. McDougal, Harold D. Lasswell, and Lung-chu Chen,Human Rights and World Public Order: The Basic Policies of an International Law of Human Dignity (New Haven: Yale UP, 1980)

My value criterion in today's debate is

VC: Maximizing beneficence

Beneficence refers to actions that promote the wellbeing of others.

Therefore, if we can maximize actions that promote the wellbeing of others we are upholding human dignity as a whole.

Now on to my contentions:

Contention One: Ethical treatment is a core human behavior.

According to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, October 1, 2011;

In the 1970s, biologist Edward O. Wilson began a new field, sociobiology, to study social behaviors of animals and humans as motivated by the organism's biology (1975). Wilson used documented examples of "helping" within many animal and insect species. Since the publishing of his innovative textbook, many books and articles have been published asserting that helping and, even, rescuing behaviors are innate in primates, helper bees, ants, wild dogs, and other species.

According to Science Daily, March 23, 2010;

Results suggest that by 21 months of age, infants display selective helping behavior and this behavior is based on their previous interactions with others. Furthermore, the intentions of individuals they are interacting with, even more than actual outcome, play a large role in determining infants' helping behavior.

We can see that helping others, and providing ethical treatment, is a innate trait found among numerous species, include ourselves. Since human dignity is the right to ethical treatment, we can best uphold human dignity by maximizing beneficence in every possible instance. In the end we can see that individuals have a moral obligation to help others.

Contention Two: Helping others reduces the bystander effect.

The bystander effect refers to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency situation to the victim when other people are present.

Kevin R, a social psychologist, on August 1, 2011, reported that;

It is known that in emergency situations where many people are present, people often fail to provide assistance because they either do not notice the incident, fail to interpret it as an emergency, or fail to assume responsibility. In the case of the 2001 terrorist attacks or the nightclub fires, it is probably the failure to assume responsibility which discourages helping the most. Social psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the bystander effect and have focused much effort on techniques to overcome it. This is because in most cases, it is socially advantageous to help. For example, coming to the aid of an individual experiencing a heart attack on a crowded street might save a life.

If individuals come to realize and assume their moral obligation to help others than instances such as which stated above will not occur as much. Therefore, maximizing actions that promote the well-being of others, beneficence, will uphold human dignity, and in some cases produce a benefit of saving lives.

Contention Three: Maximizing beneficence will provide positive development in your self-concept

According to a Graduate Student at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, 2005;

The word philanthropy means "love of humanity." Some believe that this love of others starts out with the development of an individual's self concept. One's self concept is the development of defining who you are to yourself. The feeling of empowerment is strong when an individual's gift has an impact on a specific cause. The responsible party sees him or herself as capable, and rightfully has reason for this self image.

People tend to have a higher self-image of themselves when they help other people. This is especially important that it upholds human dignity. Human dignity is important in that it is a core principal of a humane society. Therefore, in order for a society to function properly it must have human dignity. In order to uphold human dignity we must maximize beneficence.

Contention Four: Ethical treatment and help is extremely beneficial.

For example, the state and national governments believe they have a moral obligation to assist those in need. Consequentially, government benefit programs have sprung up numerous times in the past.

According to the Gale Group Database; 2004;

Government benefit programs have a large effect in reducing poverty. The incomes that families received through the private economy left 57.5 million people below the poverty line in 1996, the study reported. Government benefit programs lifted 27 million of these 57.5 million people out of poverty, cutting poverty nearly in half.

Another study found that government benefit programs, sometimes referred to as safety net programs, have their most striking effects on the elderly. Some 50.1 percent of the elderly population would have been poor in 1996 in the absence of government benefits, the study reported. Government benefit programs lowered the elderly poverty rate to 9.2 percent.

Because a moral obligation exists for individuals to assist those in need, human dignity is upheld and these actions that promote the well-being of others, beneficence, are producing positive outcomes. One must realize that a moral obligation to provide ethical treatment for others is required for human dignity to be upheld.


My opponents value is Freedom. This value is flawed in that no one is free. Freedom is defined as the quality or state of being free and the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. There are a plethora of constraints that inhibit one's actions in a society. One is not allowed to walk down a street naked without taking punishment for obscenity. Children are required to be schooled, oftentimes against their will. At early ages parents have vast control over their children.

Additionally, upholding this resolution does not infringe upon a person's freedom. I believe that it is my moral obligation or duty to attend church services because I am religious. Oftentimes I do not do this, although I know it is the right thing for me to do.

My opponent has not clearly pointed out a value criterion, although I will assume it is "to preserve justice within society." Justice is defined as giving each their own due. If someone is in need of help are they "due" an individuals or society's neglect? The just thing to do would be to help the person.


Disregard the "legally bound" portion of my opponents definition of obligation as it is not topical.

C1A. "The world's very poor are often very sick, have short life expectancies and high infant mortality, and that is sad. Justice does not require that we improve their situations, though sympathy recommends it."

Justice does not equate to a moral obligation. Moral obligations require that we do the right thing. Aid does not always constitute money, which is what I believe the "aid" in my opponents case was referring to.

C1B. This sympathy argument is not topical. Individuals have a moral obligation because it is the right thing to do and helping others is an innate trait for humans.

C2. This contention is referring to a legal obligation, "Such an obligation violates the Social Contract and would result in legal disasters." A moral obligation is different than an actual obligation...
Debate Round No. 1


sneakybitch12 forfeited this round.


Awaiting Opponent.
Debate Round No. 2


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Vote for PRO due to forfeits by CON. Conduct vote.
Debate Round No. 3
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