Contemporary Ethical Approaches to the Practice of Assistance and Foundational Accounts of Moral Duty

Part of the Studies in Global Justice book series (JUST, volume 13)


This chapter examines debates among researchers and practitioners concerning the ethical basis of the practice of assistance. There are two dominant approaches evident in the literature– deontological, or duty-based approaches, and consequentialist, or out-come based approaches. The former are more dominant in the humanitarian space, with the latter traditionally evident in the development space. In this chapter, an examination of debates concerning the tensions between these approaches is examined, with a particular focus on the humanitarian domain. Here it has been argued that traditional duty-based approaches are particularly problematical and not fit for purpose in the complex moral circumstances of contemporary assistance. Three reasons are offered in defence of this claim: (i) they cannot give sufficient consideration to the outcomes of action; (ii) they are essentially rigid and conservative; and (iii) they can result in harmful outcomes. Further, it has been argued that a shift towards approaches that lend greater weight to outcomes is required. This chapter examines this proposition. It examines both duty-based and outcome-based approaches and finds much greater common ground between these ethical frameworks and their conceptualisation of assistance than is widely assumed in the characterisations that have informed some of these debates. Through a comparative analysis of contemporary characterisations and foundational moral accounts, this analysis clarifies the points of conflict and distinction between these moral approaches that yield different substantive accounts of what a moral duty to assist would entail within each framework.


Moral Theory Moral Duty Ethical Approach Moral Requirement Great Happiness 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural SciencesTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland

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