Sunday, September 18, 2011

Obligations Owed to Persons

Do I owe an obligation to someone who does not exist? The question, on the face of it, seems absurd. But it may have some interesting consequences from its answer. First, let us examine the scenario of a possible person who does not now nor will ever exist.

Consider the case of Jim-Bob Jones III, who could have been a son of a daughter of John F. Kennedy. The daughter could have been born in 1965. But, since Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, this is clearly a case where Jim-Bob not only does not exist, but will never exist. Do I owe him any obligations? Any praises for a job well done? Any moral duty to treat him well? Notice I am not asking that if it were the case that Jim-Bob existed, would I owe him any moral obligations. Rather, it is do I owe him anything at all as the state of affairs stand. It seems not (how ludicrous, since ought implies can, and we have no possibility of fulfilling obligations to persons who do not now nor will ever exist).

Next, we can make the question much more interesting. Do I owe an obligation to a person who does not now exist but will exist at some time in the future? It certainly seems possible. Consider the case of the man who will become a father, say, five years in the future. While it is true he cannot now owe his son any direct obligation (e.g., the man cannot owe his son the obligation of going to his baseball game, or providing him shelter, or feeding him, or anything, now), it is nonetheless true that he will owe his son at that time some specific moral obligations that may have ramifications in the present. For instance, in order to fulfill his obligation to protect his son, he will have to refrain from the use of cocaine or other such drugs. Since they are highly addictive and damaging, if he becomes an addict he will not be able to fulfill his obligation to protect his son.

Now an interesting point comes about from all this: there’s no way of knowing such future persons and what scenarios may present themselves. Therefore, if these obligations are only owed to persons who both exist/will exist and will be in our lives, then morality is not truly objective, but subjective to particular circumstances. So whether or not heavy drug use is a problem depends on whether or not certain persons are around and whatnot. That seems wrong. Yet it seems very intuitive that obligations are owed to a person. Therefore, it seems at least somewhat plausible that objective moral obligations are ultimately owed to a transcendent person; that is, a person who exists in every circumstance.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please remember to see the comment guidelines if you are unfamiliar with them. God bless and thanks for dropping by!