Does moral obligation = enforcable civic duty?

Inspired in part by this thread and some posts about the question in the title.

If we were to reduce this to a specific idea, I will use charity as an example. I do feel, as most others did in that thread and as I would assume many people feel, that there is a moral imperitive and in some sense, a social obligation to be charitable—with food or volunteer time or monetary donations, if one is able. However, just because Individuals might feel obligated by their moral/social code to give to the needy, does this create a “right” on the part of the needy?

Is there, to use Bricker’s term from the linked thread, an “enforcable interest” on the part of the needy? Should civic authority, the government, enforce this “right” and force those that have to give to those who do not?

Can such a created right be expanded to more general terms? Put generally, we might say, since there is a moral and social obligation for an action, the government now has the right to force individuals into that action, and punish those who do not perform it. What about other social obligations? I feel that voting might be moral imperitive, a social obligation. Should the government force me to vote, or punish me for not voting?

Just curious as to some other Dopers’ thoughts on the matter.

Philosophically, no, there is no right to receive charity. It may be better for the commonweal for people who can to give charity to those in need, but unless one is responsible (in a reasonably direct line) for that need, one is not obligated to attempt to meet it.

A right is something which is innate to a human being’s nature, something with which they are born. The right to life is the right to not have your life taken away (without just cause) not to have your life sustained by someone else’s efforts (obvious exceptions like parent-child relationships do not negate this point). The right to liberty is the right to not have your liberty taken away (without just cause) not the right to give you the means to go wherever you want to go. The right to property is the right to not have your earned or given property taken away from you (without just cause) not the right to have property given to you.

The problem with the idea of “rights” like food and shelter is that they then become a blank check against people who have more than the bare minimum. If this principle were followed to its reductio ad absurdem, everyone would have the exact same amount of stuff. I know that’s not what people mean, they think they are just trying to enforce a little social equalization, but as soon as you get the government involved, look out.

In a truly free economy (which we don’t have) the gaps between poor and rich would be smaller, the middle class would be growing instead of shrinking, and it would be much more realistic to expect people to raise their economic status by their own efforts rather than by largesse, enforced or not. I don’t believe that the solution to our present inequalities is to make the economy less free by forcing people with a little more stuff to give even more of it to people with less stuff.

I presume it’s obvious by now, but color me libertarian.


Building civic obligations on perceived moral obligations only strikes me as functional in cases where the moral obligation is shared by all members of the society.

If I am making a case for a particular public policy, I consider it a matter of practical effectiveness to come up with reasons for it that do not simply appeal to my moral structure, because I recognise that arguments rooted in morality are only convincing to people who already agree with the moral premises. If I argue from facts, then I have a chance of convincing people who do not believe in the moral obligations that I do.

For example: I would be in favor of a program that provided prenatal care and counselling to pregnant women, with a focus on poor women who could not afford such services on their own. I have a moral belief that the value/worthiness of a society is well judged by the standards below which it would not allow its members to fall. However, when arguing in favor of such things I point out that they reduce teen pregnancy rates, lead to lower levels of delinquency in the children in question, make it less likely that those children will be harmed, and similar statistics. People who don’t agree with my vaguely socialist morals might nonetheless agree that such programs are effective to produce those goals and thus be in favor of them for reasons congruent with their own ideals.

If I can’t come up with a reason for a civic structure that doesn’t depend on people already agreeing with me, then I don’t have a strong enough argument for the policy to exist at all. I can conform to my own morals in my own actions, but without reasons that don’t refer to the insides of my skull, I can’t expect anyone else to do the same.

For the general question, I’d say that “civic duty” is a subset of “moral obligation” – anything that the government may legitimately require (e.g. respect for others’ persons and property, payment for community services such as national defense that can’t really be delivered “a la carte”) is a moral obligation; however, not everything that is a moral obligation (e.g. basic personal courtesy) may be legitimately required by government.

And I as well.

I especially agree with the notion that we don’t really have a free market, but that’s another thread altogether.

I pretty much agree with the other replies here as well; there’s nothing really to disagree with. (I had felt this way from the beginning. I just wondered if anyone would answer “yes” to the proposed questions.)

Thanks for your replies.