Rescue and the Duty to Aid

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (2001)
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Abstract

It is a commonly held view that we ought to help others when they are in peril or in need, at least when we can do so at little cost to ourselves. This means that we have a duty to aid the child drowning in the pool of water in front of us and that we also have a duty to aid hungry and needy people in distant places. I agree with this view, but I show that it does not follow that the situation of the drowning child and the situation of the needy person bind us in the same way. ;Rescue and the Duty to Aid argues that there are two distinct types of duties to aid---a perfect duty to rescue and an imperfect duty to help the needy. Both are moral requirements, but they require different things. The duty to rescue demands a particular act of an agent. The duty to help the needy demands that the agent adopt a certain end---helping needy persons---and that she act to fulfill this end. In the former situation the agent is bound to do something specific, in the latter situation the agent has the latitude to choose how to best fulfill her end. My aim is not to show that one duty is necessarily stronger or more pressing than the other, but that they demand different things. ;Once I fill out the structure of our duties, we see that the duties have different fulfillment conditions. Perfect duties can be completely discharged by doing the required act. Imperfect duties are never completely discharged but we can do our share by contributing to the end. I show that there are limitations on the duty to aid but that these limitations apply differently to perfect and imperfect duties. With a greater understanding of how the limitations work, we are in a better position to understand what and how much these duties demand of us

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Violetta Igneski
McMaster University

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