Kantian Beneficence and the Problem of Obligatory Aid

Journal of Moral Philosophy 8 (1):45-67 (2011)
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Abstract

Common sense tells us that in certain circumstances, helping someone is morally obligatory. That intuition appears incompatible with Kant's account of beneficence as a wide imperfect duty, and its implication that agents may exercise latitude over which beneficent actions to perform. In this paper, I offer a resolution to the problem from which it follows that some opportunities to help admit latitude and others do not. I argue that beneficence has two components: the familiar wide duty to help others achieve their ends and a narrow duty to avoid indifference to others as end-setters. Although we are not always required to help, we are always required not to be indifferent. When helping someone is the only way not to be indifferent to a person, helping him/her is obligatory. My account avoids certain difficulties with other proposed solutions and can also address an important concern about proximity.

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Karen Stohr
Georgetown University

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