Do you think that it is equally as wrong to not help as to harm?

I’ll give you a real life circumstance to make the question a bit less abstract.

1. There is a boy drowning in a fountain that you walk by, you are completely able to swim, but you don’t want to get your clothes wet, so you don’t help the boy.

2. There is a boy standing alongside a fountain, you pick up this boy, then actively drown him.

Are 1 and 2 equal in your eyes?

It becomes a question of end result vs. how the end result came to be.  If you believe that the end all be all is the resulting circumstance, i.e. that the boy drowned, then not helping becomes just as incorrect morally as harming does.  If you believe that the how of how the ending circumstance came to be, i.e. not helping the drowning boy vs. drowning the boy, is more important, then you would have to argue one side vs. the other.  Even if you are someone that thinks the how of the situation is more important than the result, there is still not a heavy push toward one side or the other.

It is simple to see that drowning the boy would be wrong.  There are very few situations that allow for moral obligation to drown little boys, but just in case this boy might have been drowned to save the world from implosion or something of the sort, let’s stipulate that this boy was drowned by no morally obligating circumstances.  This boy was drowned because you felt like drowning him with no confounding variables coming into play.

Initially, it seems that one should say that the actively drowning would be a higher degree of wrong than not helping, but you must take into account that you are fully able to help, no danger is posed to you, and the only reason why you don’t help is because of minor inconvenience.  In both conditionals a boy drowns, with one being completely incurred by you, and the other being completely preventable by you.

Do you still have the same answer?


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February 1, 2014 · 4:08 pm

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