In Jan Narveson, “Feeding the Hungry,” he states that we do not have a moral obligation to help the needy.

Does this imply he does not believe we have a positive duty?

He also states: "If the fact that others are starving is not our fault, then we do not need to provide for them as a duty of justice"

Does this imply that Jan Narveson does not believe people have a negative duty?

  • Can you state sources? What is implied with negative/positive duty? Apr 14, 2015 at 23:17

1 Answer 1


A positive duty is an obligation to do something. A negative duty is an obligation to refrain from doing something (link). Thus, a common example of a negative duty is that we have a duty not to murder people or a duty not to tell lies. Conversely, a positive duty would be a duty to save people or intervene if we see a child molester or to serve in the army.

In regards to your first question, based on what you are saying, he is denying that we have a positive duty to help the needy.

In regards to your second question, if we look at what you provide, he is again denying that we have a positive duty.

This is because in both cases, he is saying we are not required to do something. Neither refers to what we are prohibited from doing.

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