Starving Child in the Wilderness Revisited


Michael Stuart Kelly

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Back to the opening post for a moment.

The issue seems to reduce to obligation vs. responsibility.

Is it ones obligation to help another? No! Is it ones responsibility to help another? Again – no!

What's the difference? Obligations are expectations placed on one by others. It is possible for another to say it is ones responsibility to help others. But that is not true. Why? Because responsibility has to do with what self is, not with what another is.

To be a responsibly acting individual means to act in those ways as determined by what ones-self is. However; since both ones-self and the others-self are both of the same species then ones responsibilities are the same as the others. And visa versa.

Under objectivism children have the exact same rights as adults. However; since children are limited as to what they are able to do; then, they must be taken care of until they become able to act for their own best interest.

For that child in the OP to continue to live he must be taken care of simply because he is unable to take care of his-self. Is his care the responsibility of someone! OF COURSE IT IS!!!! Anyone who would deny that the responsibility for his care exists as a fact of his existence is not an objectivist. Who has the responsibility for his care? His creators! These are the people who are despicable in their actions; not the photographer or you or me.

It's just to damned bad things like this happen. Can we help? Of course we can! Is helping our responsibility as objectivists? Hell no! Is helping others achieve a proper human existence contrary to the principles underlying objectivist morality? Of course not! That is an absurdity.

Under objectivism - What ought a properly functioning human to do in such a situation? Whatever they choose to do! Their choice of action is their individual right.

Under objectivism – no other person has a right to determine ones actions nor does one have a right to determine another's actions.

As a matter of fact; it is the objectivist ethic (as explained by the concept of capitalism) which had any chance at all to help this kid and others like him.

Edited by UncleJim
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Trade is the most peace producing relationship there can be among the different peoples of the world. We don't have to love each other, but we can value each other's business. Of course, this scenario presupposes mutual good will. This is something entirely lacking when we deal with Muslim nations. They look at us as loathsome creatures who must be made to submit to their religion or be wiped out.

Bob,

I have problems with this on both counts. They are both in theory and not in practice. In practice, FREE TRADE "is the most peace producing relationship." When trade is entered with a dictator or corrupt politicians/businessmen, the game is anything goes—and that often is war. (I won't even start about our end.) In the case of Muslim nations, some parts of the populations feel as you say. Others do not.

I have a principle I came up with back in my college days and one day I intend to use it as a theme for a literary work. If a person is content to be going along in a life of habit and modest means, then you come and offer him wealth he never dreamed of, he will take it, but he will forever hate you for it. I see this working just as strongly, if not more so, in oil countries where the general education level is low than appeals to the Qur'an and bigotry.

Michael

Notice the blue highlight. His premise was based on "free trade." Your interpretation of this point violates his underlying premise.

When individuals cooperate from mutual agreement to mutual benefit the only possible outcome is mutual goodwill. All religious doctrine (Islam included) violates what it means to act for ones own goodwill. Religion requires humans to act in that way which its deity is living. Since (by definition) the religious deity does not live here on earth; then, requiring humans to act in accordance with where he does live is an absurdity.

This is the fundamental issue of why we are having problems dealing with Muslim nations. They have taken their concerns over how we conduct our personal lives very seriously as is witnessed by the absurdity of their purposefully conducted murders by suicide bombing.

They have announced how they want to communicate with us. Since voicing our interest in advancing their personal self-interest here on earth by volitional trade to mutual benefit (here on earth) is not their prime motivation; then, it has become to our best interest to communicate using their method of communication – death. Not our death; of course, but theirs.

They are the ones who are; by the consequences resulting from their own actions, proving they want to die. It's in our best interest to assure they achieve their desired goal.

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UncleJim,

My analysis of the Muslim situation is not so simple. I believe that there are several factors operating, not just one. It is a cognitive mistake to oversimplify multifaceted matters.

That includes the "true intention" of Muslims. (And the "true intention" of Objectivists, for that matter... :) )

(btw - I fully agree with you about obliging fanatical Islamists who have shown they worship death and prefer it to life.)

Michael

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Michael,

I've not read the entire thread here but I'm going to make a few quick comments anyway.

The fact that I exist puts no responsibility on me to take care of others. There is no *principle* that says you have to help a starving child in the wilderness. That is tantamount to declaring that you don't own your life, that you are a slave. You said if that's treason then you'll make the most of it--irrationality is not something to be proud of even if it's making you feel morally superior.

I emphasized *principle* in the above because I think there certainly are contexts where there exists a *moral* (but not legal) requirement to help those in need. If you find a starving *person* (and I don't know why you focus so much on children except for the same reason all liberals like to use them for their own socialist agendas) in the wilderness and you have the means of helping them without risking your own survival, then for various reasons I think it is immoral not to help them.

I think you are guilty of tossing out a lifeboat scenario here. No person of normal moral stature and normal means would do anything like leaving a *person* to starve. All of us would help the starving person in most circumstances.

You claim that Objectivism doesn't have the answers in this area implying that it should but that's because Objectivism doesn't tell you how to live your life. It doesn't tell you how many years to go to school or when to retire either but that doesn't mean it's "incomplete". It can certainly be true that for some individual, not going to college would be immoral, for another it would be moral. Which is precisely why Objectivism doesn't decree such things: we each need to figure out what is right for us as individuals, within a framework of universal principles that don't dictate but rather lay a basis for making varying decisions. This issue of a starving child is in this realm. It is in the area of application of philosophy to a given person in a given context, not a philosophic issue per se.

Shayne

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Shayne,

You should read not just this thread, but all of them (starting from when it started on RoR). If you want links, I will provide them. Everything you mentioned has already been argued to death.

It still did not convince me of several issues, mainly (but not exhaustively):

1. The Objectivist view of human nature. I believe that it is incomplete and there are some serious problems of scope that need clarifying.

2. The internal logic of defining a human being one way and selectively applying principles according to convenience. One example: In Objectivism, a child is defined as a stage in a human being's life where he cannot fend for himself. If he has right to life and cannot act to exercise it by definition, not just by circumstance, then the simple fact is that he is not being defined as a human being. A suddenly is not A. There is a huge contradiction here that needs to be cleared up, not just ignored or rationalized (which is all I have seen so far on this point).

3. Another contradiction: If a person has a right, then exercising that right under Objectivism is acting morally. (Not exercising a right is not acting, so it is neither moral nor immoral.) Rights are based on ethics in Objectivism. (Or are rights not based on ethics all of a sudden for this kind of case?) They are ethical principles applied to the social level in Rand's definition. But if the logic is developed to where it inevitably leads, then an adult who has a right to not be coerced into caring for another is acting morally if he passes a starving child not his own in the wilderness. I strongly object to (a.) calling this act "acting morally," or (b.) suddenly pretending that morality does not apply (which I have seen often), or (c.) calling it "immoral" without saying why according to a reason based on human nature (from whence springs ethics, and which I have also seen often).

4. Being satisfied with a morality ("good and evil" kind of morality) that applies only to healthy adults.

5. I can't help but mention the following once again. If a child has no right to be cared for (adopting a standard that one is comfortable ignoring the definition of child, and applying to it standards applicable only to adults), then every mouthful of food a child eats constitutes a gift or a debt. There is no other possibility. I believe those alternatives are wrong on a metaphysical level, but I don't use the standard I mentioned, either. By an "adult only" standard, those are the only two alternatives that exist. (This is one of those problems of scope I sometimes mention.)

Now here's a real ugly fact. An adult already got his. He doesn't have to worry about that phase anymore. It is impossible for him to run the risk of being a child again. If he uses the "adult only" standard of morality, he can ignore the fact that he received years of gifts (i.e., he was a metaphysical charity case) or he owes a big honking debt and is perfectly happy to default on it and call that moral.

That's a serious crack that will keep Objectivism from spreading more than anything I can think of.

6. Obligating some adults, but not others. The argument is usually that the parents placed a child into a situation of helplessness by causing it to be born, thus a debt is created to care for it. But there are no debts without free trade or crime in Objectivism. This particular debt (framed in the manner above) is almost the same thing as a prison sentence and damages owed to a victim for committing a crime. The simple fact is the so-called victim did not exist during the act that created it. The child was only a potential existence, not an actual one. Using the standard of free trade, how can there be liability to a zero? Using the standard of punishment for a crime, I am outraged by the very thought of consensual sex between adults being a potential crime to be regulated by the government. So this logic does not convince me.

7. I am a bit tired of the charge that I brought up the extreme example of a starving child in the wilderness as if I did it suddenly in one whack to be contentious and undermine the philosophy. I did no such thing. It was actually developed over time during a heated discussion. I never wanted to go there (and I am certainly not confusing ethics of emergencies with normal living ethics). I merely wanted to examine human nature and some lacks I detected in the Objectivist view of it, but I kept being pushed aggressively by some very nasty people back then. (Apropos, then I was called every name in the book for not being intimidated into caving in and shutting up. But I will never accept repetition of proclamations and intimidation as rational arguments. If I don't understand or I disagree with something, I say so—at least so long as I am able to act morally and exercise my right to freedom of speech.)

8. I want to find or define some kind of standard to separate mean-spirited and nasty from cordial and benevolent in human social conduct. I am not at all willing to be identified with a "philosophy of fruitcakes who think starving kids to death is OK," which is how Objectivists are sometimes identified and often viewed. There is a fundamental difference between mean-spirited and cordial and it needs to be identified all the way down to the metaphysical level and incorporated in some manner into the ethics.

I could go on, but I really don't want to rehash all this. If we are someday going to continue discussing the issues we interrupted about human nature (my 80/20 individual/species thing and the philosophy/psychology divide), I do not see any productive purpose in merely repeating what is easily available just for the reading.

If, after careful examination, we end up defining human nature differently but clearly, I believe that is productive. You might say man is A and I might say man is A+B, for instance, and we both give our reasons. At least our positions would be clear. Merely repeating standard arguments that have been aired over and over as if they were not understood is not productive. They are fully understood (at least I understand them) and my responses have been stated clearly (and those of others). Here is an example from above:

You stated: "There is no *principle* that says you have to help a starving child in the wilderness. That is tantamount to declaring that you don't own your life, that you are a slave."

I have already heard this argument so many times (usually illustrated by the dire threat of being enslaved to feed all the starving babies of Africa) that I am perplexed why the person positing it always stops right there, as if a pronouncement is a reason. I am the inconvenient guy who suddenly asks: Within the framework of a specific society, is it enslavement to be obligated to rescue a stranded child one encounters by chance? By what standard? Literally—by what social standard? Then by what moral standard? Are those standards based on human nature or are they based on a less fundamental principle, something like NIOF? Where do the rights of children end and those of adults begin and vice-versa? What ethical principles are involved? And so on.

I am not being facetious nor am I trying to lead the argument in one direction or the other with a hidden agenda. I am perfectly serious. I am dissatisfied with both the logic and the reference to reality of the answers I have encountered so far. And if I am that way, knowing what I know, you can bet your bottom dollar that good people of a religious bent will never be convinced of Objectivist arguments about the social role of children. They have defined the nature of children to their own satisfaction and have a morality and social definition that reflect it. Objectivists have a morality that only reflects the values of adults.

Thus, if Objectivism cannot provide the answers in non-contradictory terms, then the terms must be found. And I believe they will be found in a correct and complete definition (or at least acknowledgment) of human nature. And I mean from conception in the womb to birth to maturing and peaking to declining powers and death—acknowledging the realities, capabilities and limitations of each stage—then integrating those identifications into the rest of the philosophy, step-by-logical-step.

So take your time. You have a very good mind and this is an important issue—too important to hurry. We are talking about the nature of man. Nothing is more important than that in philosophy.

Michael

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You stated: "There is no *principle* that says you have to help a starving child in the wilderness. That is tantamount to declaring that you don't own your life, that you are a slave."

I have already heard this argument so many times (usually illustrated by the dire threat of being enslaved to feed all the starving babies of Africa) that I am perplexed why the person positing it always stops right there, as if a pronouncement is a reason. I am the inconvenient guy who suddenly asks: Within the framework of a specific society, is it enslavement to be obligated to rescue a stranded child one encounters by chance? By what standard? Literally—by what social standard? Then by what moral standard? Are those standards based on human nature or are they based on a less fundamental principle, something like NIOF? Where do the rights of children end and those of adults begin and vice-versa? What ethical principles are involved? And so on.

Clearly there can be no *principle* that demands rescue, because in some situations rescue means risk to your own life or even certain death. But as I said before, depending on the context, it can be construed as immoral to not rescue, and in most situations in the wilderness *in modern times* it would indeed be grossly immoral to not rescue a starving *person*.

You think this issue is important, I think that you are confused. I think Objectivism works just fine for this and many other situations that require us to use our judgment. In fact I wouldn't be interested in an Objectivism that, like the Bible, gave me a lot of "thou shalts" rather than giving me broad principles that I rationally apply in the context of my own life. I think you are implicitly trying to turn Objectivism into more of a religion, as in "thou shalt rescue starving children".

I think you are wildly off base in your application of Objectivism here. I don't have an interest in reviewing all the threads. I remember someone saying something nasty about you in connection with this issue (maybe it was Luke S.). I don't read you as being nasty, just as being utterly confused. I know that I would not want you working as a lawyer, you'd cause a lot of harm. Maybe they were being nasty because they imagined you as a lawyer. Anytime someone is utterly wrong, they have the potential of causing a lot of harm, but if we are going to crucify people for being wrong then we'd better start at the top. Ayn Rand was utterly wrong about a few things and if she was a lawyer would have caused a lot of harm where she was wrong too.

Shayne

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Michael, I'm not the one who's made hundreds of posts on this issue, so don't you tell me to "let it go".

Does anyone of any note actually agree with you on this topic? Any professional Objectivist intellectuals from either ARI or TOC?

Shayne

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UncleJim,

My analysis of the Muslim situation is not so simple. I believe that there are several factors operating, not just one. It is a cognitive mistake to oversimplify multifaceted matters.

That includes the "true intention" of Muslims. (And the "true intention" of Objectivists, for that matter... :) )

(btw - I fully agree with you about obliging fanatical Islamists who have shown they worship death and prefer it to life.)

Michael

We call them "fanatical Islamist's" but what does that mean? In my view it means they really really do believe whatever their religion says about human beings and how they ought to be acting. With this being the case then their religion is responsible for why they are acting in the way they are.

The only "facet" I see at work here is what religion says about humans. The same is not true with respect to Objectivism. The primary difference is that religion is based on opinion; Objectivism is not. Objectivism is based on reality. Since reality must be observed to be known then Objectivism is merely an expression of what is known.

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Michael,

I've not read the entire thread here but I'm going to make a few quick comments anyway.

The fact that I exist puts no responsibility on me to take care of others. There is no *principle* that says you have to help a starving child in the wilderness. That is tantamount to declaring that you don't own your life, that you are a slave. You said if that's treason then you'll make the most of it--irrationality is not something to be proud of even if it's making you feel morally superior.

I emphasized *principle* in the above because I think there certainly are contexts where there exists a *moral* (but not legal) requirement to help those in need. If you find a starving *person* (and I don't know why you focus so much on children except for the same reason all liberals like to use them for their own socialist agendas) in the wilderness and you have the means of helping them without risking your own survival, then for various reasons I think it is immoral not to help them.

I think you are guilty of tossing out a lifeboat scenario here. No person of normal moral stature and normal means would do anything like leaving a *person* to starve. All of us would help the starving person in most circumstances.

You claim that Objectivism doesn't have the answers in this area implying that it should but that's because Objectivism doesn't tell you how to live your life. It doesn't tell you how many years to go to school or when to retire either but that doesn't mean it's "incomplete". It can certainly be true that for some individual, not going to college would be immoral, for another it would be moral. Which is precisely why Objectivism doesn't decree such things: we each need to figure out what is right for us as individuals, within a framework of universal principles that don't dictate but rather lay a basis for making varying decisions. This issue of a starving child is in this realm. It is in the area of application of philosophy to a given person in a given context, not a philosophic issue per se.

Shayne

Another term for "moral obligation" might be - force. To be morally obligated means that someone else is telling you how you ought to be acting. Often times that other person will use whatever means necessary to get you to do what they believe you ought to be doing.

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Does anyone of any note actually agree with you on this topic? Any professional Objectivist intellectuals from either ARI or TOC?

That's the fallacy of appealing to authority, what someone with authority believes has no bearing on the validity of an argument. Many "authorities" thought Einstein's theories were crazy at first.

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Another term for "moral obligation" might be - force. To be morally obligated means that someone else is telling you how you ought to be acting. Often times that other person will use whatever means necessary to get you to do what they believe you ought to be doing.

Nonsense. You are morally obligated to refrain from eating too much, that doesn't imply that anyone should force you.

Shayne

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That's the fallacy of appealing to authority, what someone with authority believes has no bearing on the validity of an argument. Many "authorities" thought Einstein's theories were crazy at first.

Spare me your banal misapplication of the rules of logic. It is not a fallacy to ask whether or not there exists any authority that agrees with Michael.

Shayne

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The only "facet" I see at work here is what religion says about humans. The same is not true with respect to Objectivism. The primary difference is that religion is based on opinion; Objectivism is not. Objectivism is based on reality. Since reality must be observed to be known then Objectivism is merely an expression of what is known.

All theories, propositions, religions, science, etc. are models of reality only. Some are based on strict methodology, like most science, others are very speculative, like most religions, but all are models, including Objectivism.

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Another term for "moral obligation" might be - force. To be morally obligated means that someone else is telling you how you ought to be acting. Often times that other person will use whatever means necessary to get you to do what they believe you ought to be doing.

Nonsense. You are morally obligated to refrain from eating too much, that doesn't imply that anyone should force you.

Shayne

Exactly what is my "moral obligation" to refrain from eating to much?

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The only "facet" I see at work here is what religion says about humans. The same is not true with respect to Objectivism. The primary difference is that religion is based on opinion; Objectivism is not. Objectivism is based on reality. Since reality must be observed to be known then Objectivism is merely an expression of what is known.

All theories, propositions, religions, science, etc. are models of reality only. Some are based on strict methodology, like most science, others are very speculative, like most religions, but all are models, including Objectivism.

Please tell me how religion "models" reality.

Objectivism does not model reality; it observes it and then simply reports what it sees.

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Exactly what is my "moral obligation" to refrain from eating to much?

Your life is the standard of value in ethics. "Too much" implies a standard by which we measure it--the proper standard is your life. To eat "too much" is by definition to violate the standard and breach morality.

Don't get confused and think this is prescribing for you exactly how much to eat or how much you can legitimately weigh. Objectivism only says that your life is the standard and reason is the method, it doesn't tell you how it applies for every individual.

Shayne

Edit: I would add that anyone who does not understand my point above should stop wasting time reading/writing in Objectivist forums and instead go read the Objectivist literature.

Edited by sjw
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Exactly what is my "moral obligation" to refrain from eating to much?

Your life is the standard of value in ethics. "Too much" implies a standard by which we measure it--the proper standard is your life. To eat "too much" is by definition to violate the standard and breach morality.

Don't get confused and think this is prescribing for you exactly how much to eat or how much you can legitimately weigh. Objectivism only says that your life is the standard and reason is the method, it doesn't tell you how it applies for every individual.

Shayne

Edit: I would add that anyone who does not understand my point above should stop wasting time reading/writing in Objectivist forums and instead go read the Objectivist literature.

But that does not respond to my question about your claim that I have a "moral obligation" to not over eat. What you seem to actually mean is that I have a responsibility which is described by what my life is and how that determines how I ought to be acting.

If this is the case; then I agree.

Your edited remark implies that you actually know what you are talking about. However your demonstrated confusion on the issue of moral obligation defeats your implied claim.

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Your edited remark implies that you actually know what you are talking about. However your demonstrated confusion on the issue of moral obligation defeats your implied claim.

On the contrary, you're just stubbornly clinging to an irrational definition of "moral obligation". There's no distinction between a "moral responsibility", a "moral requirement" and a "moral obligation", they are all one in the same thing.

Shayne

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Your edited remark implies that you actually know what you are talking about. However your demonstrated confusion on the issue of moral obligation defeats your implied claim.

On the contrary, you're just stubbornly clinging to an irrational definition of "moral obligation". There's no distinction between a "moral responsibility", a "moral requirement" and a "moral obligation", they are all one in the same thing.

Shayne

Notice that responsibility, requirement and obligation are different words - each has a different definition. You may believe the definition for each is the same but the available evidence does not support your belief.

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Please tell me how religion "models" reality.

Objectivism does not model reality; it observes it and then simply reports what it sees.

For example many religions postulate that man was created or intelligently designed, this amounts to theory or model of some aspect of reality. This theory is not accepted by most scientists, who believe in evolution. Objectivism has several aspects, one of which is epistemology, which is the theory of knowledge. So it has a model of how man knows but it is not the only such model.

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Notice that responsibility, requirement and obligation are different words - each has a different definition. You may believe the definition for each is the same but the available evidence does not support your belief.

Words by their nature are contextual--there are many definitions for each of those words. Your implication to the contrary is intrinsicism and your argument is silly.

The connotation of "obligation" is "duty", but there is in fact no such thing as a "moral duty". The rational denotation of "moral obligation" therefore has to be the the same as "moral responsibility" or "moral requirement"--that which one ought to do.

Shayne

Edited by sjw
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Please tell me how religion "models" reality.

Objectivism does not model reality; it observes it and then simply reports what it sees.

For example many religions postulate that man was created or intelligently designed, this amounts to theory or model of some aspect of reality. This theory is not accepted by most scientists, who believe in evolution. Objectivism has several aspects, one of which is epistemology, which is the theory of knowledge. So it has a model of how man knows but it is not the only such model.

If the "model" does not respect what is then it is-not a model of it.

It's real easy for people to simply claim to have modeled reality by claiming that man was created by some kind of intelligent designer. But if that claim is not in accordance with what actually exists in reality then it cannot actually be a model of it.

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If the "model" does not respect what is then it is-not a model of it.

You're trying to ascribe a rational definition to the term "model", however, the coiners of that term have nothing rational in mind when they use it. It's a pure Kantian construct meant to convey a dichotomy between the alleged noumenal and phenomenal realms.

It's real easy for people to simply claim to have modeled reality by claiming that man was created by some kind of intelligent designer. But if that claim is not in accordance with what actually exists in reality then it cannot actually be a model of it.

This is a very healthy reality-oriented reaction but it will get you nowhere in an argument with the "modeler" mentality.

Shayne

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Notice that responsibility, requirement and obligation are different words - each has a different definition. You may believe the definition for each is the same but the available evidence does not support your belief.

Words by their nature are contextual--there are many definitions for each of those words. Your implication to the contrary is intrinsicism and your argument is silly.

The connotation of "obligation" is "duty", but there is in fact no such thing as a "moral duty". The rational denotation of "moral obligation" therefore has to be the the same as "moral responsibility" or "moral requirement"--that which one ought to do.

Shayne

I did not meant to say there are not many definitions for individual words floating around. I did mean to say there is only one rational definition for each word. Otherwise anyone can claim to have developed the correct definition; and by definition, it would be the correct definition.

Let me say this: If an "obligation" is self-determined this means one has acted properly with regard to ones responsibilities.

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