A question, A question for all here at ILP

In another philosophy forum, I asked this question. I’m interested in your responses here at ILP.

Question: If you saw some child drowning in a pool, and nobody was around to save him or her, would you save the child? The child is not yours, so there is no biological imperative for you to save him or her.

State your reasoning.

of course i would ~ i am not into necrophilia :mrgreen:

no but bad joking aside, i wouldnt even think about it, i’d just immediately save the child. my guess is that that means my ancestors were kind and altruistic for whatever given reasons. historically we have had religious and cultural conventions, which made such demands of us. though i do feel there is a natural urge to save others, we see it sometimes in animals too, definitely grief in elephants. indeed on the radio today a scientist said that crayfish have emotions :-k .

in terms of metaphysics, i think that there is an inner unwritten informational or other connection between all things. it is from that where the sentiment derives. -see also my dreams thread, and most of my previous threads.

Yes. The obvious reason is compassion. I don’t have a better word to describe what would compel me to help, but I would indeed be compelled.

The more intriguing question though is this: are you morally obligated to save the child?

Sure, I would save the child if I was able to. And the I suspect the overwhelming preponderance of folks here would too. But is it [philosophically] our duty to?

No, I don’t think it is.

How could it demonstrated otherwise?

As for a “biological imperative”…what is that? After all, there are parents who will actually drown their children themselves. And not all of them are mentally “deranged”.

Well, according to current scientific methodology, I would have to first look around and quickly calculate the probability of him growing up to be another right wing Christian, left wing Liberal, sexist, racist, or potential terrorist and then act on pre-crime statistics.


There is no obligation in reality. You’re not obligated to live, let alone act in accordance with a moral system.

There’s plenty of moral systems, they’re all tools. People that have no trust in the system that is their own body, likely delegate responsibility to a moral system.

It is one’s choice to subscribe to a moral system, and one can choose to ignore it, or shed it.

Moral systems contradict each other. Therefore, any question founded on the assumption that there’s one moral answer to a question, is faulty.

Morality is relative to an objective. Right/wrong && good/bad are relative to an objective.

Specify which morality you’re interested in, what your objective is, then we can decide whether your moral code has an answer to the dilemma.

But above all, the question is this - Are you willing to enable the result?

In this case, are you willing to see the child drown and all the cascading results?

Is it in your interest?

Obligated to who or what?

but you don’t consider morals in such a situation, you simply act. the morals are decided beforehand either in your own contemplations of from external [to you] sources e.g. genes, nurture.

  • but I think its a phallacy that we don’t feel for others, we experience that feeling many times in our lives, and its reinforced probably on a daily basis. we do really feel for others, and I don’t think I am making that up, and I do think majoritively everyone thinks that way. consciousness are tactile.

I am tempted to think that even those who hate people/kids would ‘first’ think to save the child. everything else are after thoughts.

If it wasn’t for the “biological imperative” bit slipped in there, I’d say this question is quite amateurish. Naturally, my answer is ‘yes’, and my reasoning is that I would feel like it.

The more interesting question (which is why I stop just shy of calling it amateurish) is why would I do this if there is no biological advantage to me. I suppose you could say the act of saving the child is an investment well worth the returns I’d get from his/her parents or perhaps the child him/herself (maybe I’d have to wait until he/she grew a bit older before he/she could return the favor), or even from society itself if the word went out about my good deed.

But even if none of this were to happen, biology often works on a generalizing or overcompensating principle. For example, in the woods at night, we might be struck with fear over every little sound and twig crack ← this is a generalizing principle: not all sounds or twig cracks are a predator. Or what about being hungry more often than we need to be such that, over time, we tend towards obesity rather than an optimal body mass/figure ← this is an overcompensating principle: better to err on the side of overcompensation rather than risk starvation just in case the food supply runs out. Being compelled to save the child may be a generalization principle at work: why waist brain power trying to calculate whether saving this one child is worth the returns to one’s self compared to an adult who could reward you more immediately or your own child who will one day pass on your own genes, when you can just apply a generalized principle of “save anyone” and in most cases get the returns that would benefit you. This could also be seen as an overcompensation principle: “save anyone” is much like “eat everything” even though you may only need to eat half of everything.

Hello Erik
I think that my decision would be partly instinctual. Yes there is a part of compassion, but what is my situation? Do I even know how to swim in this scenario? Because if I don’t, then all that compassion would not overcome my irrational fear and rationalization that it is better that the child dies alone, than that the child dies alongside a stranger who didn’t know his own limits.
But if the person contemplating this crisis does know how to swim, I think that they will help. The other day I was flying coach. Couple in the seats before me had a 3 year old kid. Now, it is not my kid, but their kid, I know that, but boy was I entertained by the little kid’s smile every time He saw my face. We mostly like little kids, even when they are not ours, when they are behaving and just being cute. I think that we would normally act out this disposition by stepping in to help. Now some might say that we feel compassion for the helpless, but I think we react differently to an overweight person drowning than to a kid drowning. It might be that we see the child as an innocent, almost by-definition, and that is a value that we as a society have created and maintained. Certainly, letting a kid drown, when you had the means to easily save the child will exact a toll on you going forward.

Thanks for the responses, guys.

I guess this question is better suited for moral-nihilists; saving an alien who is weak echoes of Judeo-Christian altruism ( So I have been told ), which is something they abhor. Many if not most here at ILP aren’t moral-nihilists, but the answers are still interesting.

That is rooted in each individual’s understanding of “reality”; and in how she [out in a particular world] has come to understand “right” and “wrong” behavior in her own particular interactions with others.

Then the more intriguing questions become:

1] Why [and how] do different people actually come to think different things about “reality”?

2] Is there a way to determine how all rational folks ought to think about it?

3] Does that include how they ought to think about morality—about the resolutions of moral conflicts?


Yes, I would because I would have no choice in the matter. Who would allow a child to drown if it were within their power to save that child - only a really warped or sick mind. Maternal or paternal instincts are really strong. There is a biological imperative here though at the moment you’re saving the child, it might be a bit unconcious or impossible to put into words. The B.I. is the survival of the species, the saving and the survival of that child to be able to grow up and to reproduce, to have a chance at a good life…to extend life into the future. If people thought in terms of not helping or not saving, I wonder how long it would take for our species to survive?
If people thought in terms of there being no biological imperative to help and to save/rescue the jews from the concentration camps because those jews were not our fathers and mothers or brothers and sisters, et cetera, it wouldn’t take long before life became less than nothing and there wouldn’t be any left on earth.
When it comes right down to it, it’s the most intelligent and logical action for any person to take.

Actually, most here are moral nihilists. But they don’t think of it as a moral, but rather a passion response which they demand the right to have regardless of any and all reasoning.

“saving an alien who is weak echoes of Judeo-Christian altruism” ??? :confusion-scratchheadyellow:

We’ve got another one James.

It’s a feedback loop. Their realities (environments) are different. Even little differences, at opportune places, are enough the diverge paths substantially.

Joy, Pain & Influence

Rational folks ought understand their interests, values, and objectives.

If these rational folk have the same interests, values and objectives, then they ought react the same way.

You seem to have completely ignored my first post to you, so I’ll repeat myself -

Morality is relative to an objective.

If you’re rational, you’ll react to all situations in accordance with your interests, values and objectives. This is true even in moments of conflict, where two parties disagree.

What I’d hope, is that people have perspective. That is in their interest. To understand the results of their actions, so they’ve better information to base their decisions on.

Ignorance is the enemy of rational beings.

Ah, how nice. James and yourself are out fishing somewhere. May I be invited to dinner?

But alleged “rational folks” have [throughout history] often had conflicting interests, values and objectives. Who then is to say which they are obligated morally to subscribe to? And to predicate their behaviors on?

And who then is to say which interests, values and objectives reflect an “ignorance” of what is essentially true?

Why don’t you choose a particular moral conflict [abortion, capital punishment, just war, the role of government, homosexuality etc.] and we can focus our argumens more, well, existentially.

Or we can stay focused on one’s “duty” to save the drowning child.

I disagree that their fundamental interests were different.

I think we’re an ignorant species who are easily confused and thus make poor decisions and based on even poorer understanding.

As described in my first post, which you still haven’t addressed, people can make their own judgements based on all the information at hand.

Not rely on another to demand action and allegiance.

There is no obligation. We’re not obligated to do a thing.


All one can do is act sincerely to the best of one’s knowledge.

If one realizes past error, they can learn from it and react accordingly.

I’ve made specific arguments for many of those issues, but to focus on them is to bring more variables into the equation, and make resolution/understanding more difficult due to confusion and prejudice.

You asked a question - ‘are you morally obligated to save the child?’

I answered to the best of my knowledge.

I answered this in my original post to you.

No one is obligated to do anything.

Please read my first post. :smiley:

You don’t need a ‘reason’, you just act.

But there is a biological imperative here, it’s just not apparently ‘selective’. We are born with a trait to care about things in distress. We either eat them or save them.

Evolution is an effect, not a cause. We do not act to preserve or promote out genes. Individuals have not knowledge of genes, and neither does Natural Selection; Evolution. Natural Selection is not teleological.