A Few Quick Questions


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As I was recently teaching a philosophy course in Ethics, my class began to ponder a question that spans several millennia. Am I really my brother’s keeper?
 
To what extent, if any, do we really owe anything to anyone? We claim to be obligated to others for many different reasons. Some people tell us their religions mandate it. Some believe we are obligated by law. Others think we have a duty imposed by Nature.
 
Ethics in the Western world is the Study of Morality, as stated by Socrates. Simplistically, it is how I ought to treat you, and how I should expect to be treated by you. But Socrates himself could not tell us just exactly how.
 
One of the interesting theories advanced by several prominent philosophers of the past is the Social Contract. In this view, since we are socially bound together in formed societies, there is some implied contract that we ought to act in a certain way. What humans have failed to agree upon is what exactly that way is.
 
Like many of you, I try to be a nice guy, but I am not Mother Teresa. So do I really have an “obligation” to my fellow human beings, or am I simply a nice guy if I spend my existence helping others and making them happy?
 

Comments

  1. Good topic!. I think we have an 'obligation' up to a certain point.. which for me, is when it becomes less enjoyable if it is an obligation... we should be 'our brother's keeper' without feeling we have to do it... If I were on the receiving end, I would feel bad if the person who was obligating themselves only did it to look good in the eyes of others or they did it out of guilt.

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    1. KBF: I learned I did not have to enjoy things for my life to be enjoyable. I do feel some obligations, not out of guilt, but commitment. Yet, my life has been most enjoyable.

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  2. I have never taken that literally, in meaning me...alone responsible. In primitive times, the tribe or neighborhood took some responsibility. Sometimes religious groups did their share or money was taken out of taxes to care for the unfortunate. By that, I don't mean a welfare state or a precursor of socialism.

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    1. Manzi: I wholeheartedly agree with self-preservation, just not at an innocent person's expense. Money means little to me. I've had it and not had it. No difference to my life.

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  3. Thought-provoking. I think it is about respect and allowing others to be happy.

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    1. joeh: I absolutely agree.

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    2. I also agree. This is what I tried to express.

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  5. Tough question. I suppose everyone believes something different when pondering it, and I'm sure they can justify their own actions within their frame of mind.

    Personally, I want to be a nice person and help as many people as I'm able. It's what I feel is right, but at the same time, I realize I can help no one if they are unwilling to help themselves, too.

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  6. Great question. Thanks for writing about this! I was raised to be nice to people and to hate no one, and because of that, I feel good whenever I can help others even in the smallest way. I don't consider it an obligation, nor do I believe that everyone "should" feel the same way as I do. I've always loved the song by The Hollies "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother." That pretty much sums up my beliefs.

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    1. BECKY: That does make you a nice person. Also, brings back memories of the Hollies.

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  7. I believe that kindness and charity cannot be mandated by the Church or by the Government. I think it undermines the core of ideals kindness and charity. If they have to be mandated then they aren't done out of kindness or charity, are they? So that means that they must come from a person's desire to help. We live in a society that I think genuinely does want to help others and there are organizations in place to help people help.

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    1. Let me add to this, one does not need organization to help you be kind. However, if you want to help and do not know how, there are organizations out there to help you. It just takes some research on your part to find the best fit (for you). And maybe, through that research, you will find a way to help bypassing the organization altogether. The key thing here is that it is each individual's CHOICE how and who they want to help.

      Interesting that this is still niggling on my brain DAYS later...

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    2. Robin: Compulsion to do the right thing, like everything else that takes away human free will, is not charity under any circumastances.

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    3. Ronin: That is what I way saying to Linda below. It is a choice.

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  8. Truth be told- I think, even without having met you in real life face to face- that you "enjoy" (deep inside of you JJ)the very act of being "Nice" and "helpful" to people, animals, probably even your favorite cars! It's as simple as that!

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    1. Karen: You are too kind. I like to think of myself as a modern-day Zorro or Robin Hood, and always did since childhood, but I am hardly that noble. However, I have no love for "things," and although I have had some fantastic cars, I would never put one above an animal. You are right. I am pretty much an open book.

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  9. A story: when I took myself to a psychiatrist after my first bout with Meniere's Syndrome which came about while driving on an expressway and scared me out of driving for a year, the first thing he asked me was: Was I able to stand up for myself? The question made me laugh.

    Drawing the line between where my well being started and another person's ended was never a problem. I could always stand up for myself and actually could get quite aggressive if need be. I love being helpful as long as I can be helpful and it doesn't in effect how my life is going. I will not give of myself completely for others. I am no Mother Therese. I need to reserve some strength to insure my own survival. How's that for a straight out, no nonsense,response? How moral/ethical my behavior is means nothing. Self preservation is to be protected--and I think that's human. --Now self preservation begins first with myself, then my family, then my community, then my country, then the planet.

    Good post. It generated lots of good thinking.

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    1. Linda: I almost agree. First is my family, then my community, then my country, then the planet. To my wife, I give 100%, and would do so, even if it meant my life.

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    2. We do agree totally I think, you're just trying to look good. We owe it to our loved ones to take care of ourselves physically and mentally so we can be there for them. Their wellbeing depends on ours.

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    3. Linda: We do agree, but I never say anything I don't mean. Looking good is not my thing.

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  10. Oh I know that you know that I have struggled mightily with this one! Only after some self destructive behavior on my part in the form of weight gain, wasted time and energy, loss of some major cash and absolutely putting myself last have I learned that for me being the keeper of anyone is not my business. I can give freely of myself to whom I choose. I can also choose to stop doing that at any point and there is no guilt involved other than that I place on myself. Giving of myself to the people and things that are healthy for me feels good and there is an obvious difference when I do things because I feel that I 'should'. I have come to sincerely believe that no one gains when someone gives of themselves to try to save someone else that doesn't really want to be productive. It seems to me that the world is being deprived of who we are supposed to be and what we have to give when we try too hard to make up for what someone else won't do for themselves. I have learned the hard lesson that you cannot make someone want a good life.

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    1. Ms. Jasmine: You are truly a pleasure to blog with. As a teacher, I love it when people grow.

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  11. I wish I had you for my teacher. I try to display small acts of kindness on a regular basis. I agree that family comes first, and I'm very proud that my sons' are wonderful brothers.
    Julie

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    1. Julie: They are undoubtedly wonderful because their mother is kind regularly. Everything in Nature goes full circle.

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  12. I think the answer is in Larry Dossey's quote--"Do good unto others because they are you." It is less about obligation and more about the recognition that at some level we are all connected. Like one "translation" of the greeting "namaste"--I greet that place in you where, if you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.

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    1. Galen Pearl. I should have known.

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    2. Am I that predictable? I suppose so.

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    3. Galen: Heavens no. I feel we are kindred spirits, living by a different code. Your mentors are my mentors, and they see life differently. I see the world as one, and I am a very small part. It is neither a choice, nor an obligation. It is just the way of Nature.

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  13. Hi JJ... I hope this message finds you, your wife & family all well. I think I was just born with an innate quality of always caring for others. I believe we all have a responsibility to care for mankind. Of course, just like yourself & many of your other readers, loved ones come first, always! There is one thing I am learning as I my chronological clock ticks over & that is that we really need to be a keeper of ourselves first.... in order to be a good keeper of others. In a more literal sense, I am my brothers keeper and always will be. My brother although a year older than me, has an intellectual disability & I have always looked out for him. Wishing you all the best for a fabulous Easter JJ, blessings.

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