The Role of Obligation in a Proper Moral Theory

Essay by eibUniversity, Bachelor'sA, December 2006

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There exist many theories concerning the factors which hold it in their power to motivate a human to act in accordance with principles which are customarily referred to as morals. The most universal of these, which has been called self interest or self-love by many great philosophers, is the most basal of motivations. Self interest, as it shall henceforth be referred to, is the natural tendency for animals to perform behaviors which will, in their assessment, create the greatest personal good for them. Humans, being rational animals, are not merely subject to act in accordance with pure self interest. Rather, humans are able to determine courses of action which will benefit the sum whole of humanity and to perform those behaviors which, in their assessment, create the greatest general good regardless of the personal good created. The tendency of humans to perform these actions is called benevolence. Finally, there exists a third motivating factor, which must be taken into account to form a proper moral theory; this third factor will be called obligation.

Obligation is the result of the social nature of humans. Suffice to say, for now, that obligations are the motivations to perform actions which result from explicit promises regarding what behavior one will engage in. The exact definition of obligation will be handled in greater detail later in this paper.

Obligations have been a key aspect of many influential moral theories. Several great philosophers have heavily relied on the concept of obligations in their moral theories. Perhaps most notably are the ideas of contracts or covenants in Hobbes' Leviathan and Hume's discussion of promises in Of the Obligation of Promises . Both of these philosophers, as well as many others, have developed theories in such a way so as to incorporate obligations, though they often refer to...