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On Moral Obligation

John Arthur argues that “our moral “intuitions” include not only the commitments they emphasize but also entitlements, which suggests that people who deserve or have rights to their earnings may be allowed to keep them”. Against the idea put forward by Peter Singer on the moral obligation to sacrifice one’s luxuries in order to prevent the evil from taking place, Arthur points out that such obligations are against the entitlements of a person who has the right to enjoy his/her positive rights.

The argument cannot be accepted either from a humanitarian position or from a position of social justice. At first, Arthur takes a universal position of exemption against a concrete situation which necessitates obligatory engagement. It is not a universal principle but the concrete reality (such as famine or accident) that makes the humanitarian. Secondly, Arthur’ idea of free enjoyment does not take account of the concrete social conditions from which inequalities stem. It is not possible to assume that what resulted in making one rich has no way related to making one poor.

However, the particularity of a situation that demands humanitarian aid could become irrelevant if we think that what appears as a luxury in a particular situation can be a basic need for the involved person such as educational expenses. Compromising on such an issue for mitigating the ills of something else could effectively push even the one vantage position to destitution. It means that we cannot give up investment in education for housing welfare as in the long term it would lead to serious social crisis.

Secondly, since the social processes that determines one’s advantages are independent of everyone involved, we cannot put more responsibility on some against others. To conclude, it could be said that our moral obligations cannot be binding on the basis of any universal principle but the particularity of the situation. And, the concrete social conditions which are responsible give birth to social evils could only be addressed from a collective position. Individual responsibility to particular situations could only be asserted if the involved person has any specific obligations to the situation.

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