Washington D.C.: The age-old moral philosophy that if you are unable to do something, then you are not morally obligated to do it has been debunked in a new study.
University of Waterloo's John Turri and Wesley Buckwalter investigated the link between being morally obligated to do something and having the ability to do it. Traditional philosophical wisdom says that "ought implies can," but their recent study found that people routinely attribute moral obligations to people who cannot fulfill them.
"In one experiment, participants considered a case where two swimmers are drowning," explains Buckwalter. "Because the drowning swimmers are so far apart, the lifeguard on duty can save one or the other, but not both of them. Despite acknowledging that the lifeguard is literally unable to save both swimmers, the overwhelming majority of participants judged that the lifeguard was still obligated to do so."
These findings may also apply to issues such as the refugee crisis European nations are facing and the immigration reform at the forefront of U.S. politics.
The study appears in PLOS ONE.