I've been thinking about government assistance, and on one hand, I dont want to let people die, but on the other hand, I dont want to let them live by taking advantage of my generosity.

For example, if a capable person refuses to work, what would logic in favor of humanitarianism suggest that we do? Let them starve? Feed them anyway? Both choices seem to lead to frowned upon results. If too many people take advantage of a system in which all people will be fed regardless, it seems that the society may weaken or collapse. And then there's a matter of fairness, in regards to the people who work, and have their earnings taxed to feed those who wont work.

Is there any philosophy which addresses this problem?

I'm looking for a citation of any philosophy on the subject which wouldn't be considered "highly" controversial. I'd narrow my question to a single philosophy, but I haven't heard of one which covers this problem.

  • This question is basically too large to be answerable in an SE format.
    – virmaior
    Dec 2, 2015 at 6:55
  • Actually @virmaior, it's a fairly simple question to answer. With references. Providing for minimal subsistence is widely held to be a right that comes with citizenship (Frankfurt; Rawls; Sandel; Kymlicka– need I go on?). The Nozickian-libertarian position can be misread to claim that it says we're not obligated to help others survive, but the impetus is to prevent governmental obligations from overriding the freedoms of personal choice and property. It does not remove our ethical obligations in the slightest.
    – Ryder
    Dec 2, 2015 at 10:42
  • And yet you've covered only two very small positions in a much larger discussion about the nature of society. Ergo, I'd say there's not a widely held position that all philosophers hold to.
    – virmaior
    Dec 2, 2015 at 11:29
  • @virmaior Could I improve my wuestion perhaps? Or make it clear that I'm not looking for universal agreement on the philosophy, but just one by any philosopher who could be considered widely popular, or not heavily controversial in regards to the topic of this question?
    – J.Todd
    Dec 2, 2015 at 13:25
  • I think you could make it better by appending a particular idea of government that you're working from. e.g., modern democracy built on Lockean ideas or whatever system you'r asking us to address this in. / It's harder to pin down things that are not all controversial "in philosophy" (it's hard to even pin down universally agreed things about what philosophy is "in philosophy")
    – virmaior
    Dec 2, 2015 at 13:43

1 Answer 1


There is a big difference between surviving and "living." Our generosity should not go beyond providing the minimum for individual survival.
The individual's desire to "live" (not just survive) would then be the motivation for the individual to not refuse to use his/her talents/skills to provide a "life" for him/herself.
I believe that a society with this type of philosophy would be able to keep to a minimum the number of individuals causing this type of "problem" to the society.

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