I have been wondering recently to what extent am I morally obligated to campaign for a cause that I believe in.

For example, there is a referendum on abortion rights coming up in my country and I have made up my decision on what way I would like to vote. Is it enough for me to make my vote for what I think is right, or am I morally obligated to try and convince others the same (go to strikes etc.) before the referendum is held?

If I should convince others of what I think is right, to what extent should I put effort into this? It does not seem feasible to me to spend as much time as one has doing this for every cause that they have an opinion on.

  • 1
    Very good question. With limited time, what do we do? I don't know if people still study axiology or not. I think it is necessary to try to order our values, but my knowledge is weak in this field. I do think there is a duty to vote in such cases.
    – Gordon
    Nov 10, 2017 at 22:54
  • It depends on the type of ethics you subscribe to, and possibly on whether campaigning is the only way to further the ethical commitments you have. But even if you have such an obligation it has to be balanced with your other obligations, with the result that you do not have to act on it. See SEP's Moral Dilemmas on resolving conflicts between moral obligations.
    – Conifold
    Nov 10, 2017 at 23:40
  • To @Conifold 's point, the answer depends greatly on your point of view.
    – philosodad
    Nov 14, 2017 at 22:09
  • Definitely a good question; my thoughts on this is that all things been equal there is a duty to do so, otherwise what content has your belief then? However, all things are not equal - there are multiple claims on our time, so we prioritise, and these priorities may change with time, greater understanding and circumstances. Nov 15, 2017 at 6:31

5 Answers 5


Since this is the philosophy stack exchange site, I will answer somewhat from a scholarly philosophical context. The answer, I think, is that it depends on what philosophical context you choose to think from.

Some possibilities:

The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves. - Alan Watts

So we spend a lot of time worrying about what we ought to do and what we ought to not do - following our current whims and beliefs about what is right and what is wrong.
Driven to act, it is often our ego dictating what we ought do or not do. If we believe x, are we morally bound to act upon x, and what must we do? Often acting from this context, we will end up doing more harm than good, and become fixed on our beliefs, certain that what we are doing is right. One need look no further than Twitter to see how dangerous that can be.

Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. - Immanuel Kant

Do you believe that your position on abortion is something that you believe should be a universal law? Do you think it is an unquestionably good position for all? Does it align with a pre-existing universal truth? (For example, Never Lie).
If so, you are, for the most part, obligated to act in accordance with your position. Kant is too heavy to capture in a paragraph, but the above isn't a terrible intro. I think Kant is limited and deliberately ignores realities that he doesn't like, but for the most part, you won't damage yourself following his philosophy.

What destroys a man more quickly", he asks, "than to work, think, and feel without inner necessity, without any deep personal desire, without pleasure—as a mere automaton of “duty”?" - Friedrich Nietszche

When obligated to act there is no creative, joyful purpose in one's actions. Are we not just slaves to some master (internal or external)? We are bound and thrust into our action, and as it is our duty, we will die defending it. The people who followed Hitler's dictates often thought they were in the right. They believed in the cruelty suggested by their master, and believed they had a duty to follow that master. It is easy to blindly obey under the guise of loyalty.

Love God and do. what you will - St. Augustine

As long as your cause is square with your God, then do it joyfully.

Ultimately, I think my position lies somewhere in the middle. While it is fine to act in accordance with a spiritual guide, and "do what you will", if you want to make a difference, you won't get far that way. You won't always feel like it, and your emotions will be conflicted, and for myself, the only way I will ever have the discipline to do anything is to set up my actions as a matter of my own integrity, and force myself to act no matter whether I feel like it or not.

But at the same time, the internal pull to a particular cause can be dangerous, because coming from the wrong place, it can harm and ignore others, and even produce unexpected and undesirable results.

I think it is essential to act on that which you choose to act on, not from obligation, but from a place of creativity and honesty. For example, it is not, "I think x about abortion, so I must do y". It is more like, "Given I think x about abortion, what could I do that would make a difference? What is the intention behind my opinion? Do I think that all people should be treated equally? Or is it that I want people to experience being taken care of? What can I do to fulfill on that? Do I want to do anything? Does it light me up?"

It is essential to examine ones own motives. As Werner Erhard said, (paraphrasing):

I am distrustful of all motives, especially my own.


As phrased I think the question isn't properly representing the issue.

To me the question is "What is my moral obligation to be altruistic." because your sole example is a shared cause, not a personal one.

Are you morally obligated to campaign for a cause you believe in? ... absolutely, 100%, if it's a personal one.

Isn't personal health, both mental and physical, a cause you believe in? Making a living? Using the recycling bins. Paying taxes despite the dental bills from gritting teeth?

How about happiness? If you have a cause to 'keep the world safe (so I can be happier)' then isn't practicing the skill of being happier (mental health) a cause you should champion?

(If you think happiness is not a moral obligation then why would any participation in society be one ... putting out the trash, regulating one's emotions, etc. People who practice the skill of happiness don't usually commit crimes, hurt others, etc. Why is happiness not a moral cause we all share?)

I think because you do not exist as a Borg you have no moral obligation to be altruistic. You DO have a moral obligation to maintain personal integrity.

Very practically speaking this usually means spending whatever altristic time you choose on local causes. Most people are most often more effective making small changes on a small scale.

For example a person who refuses to have children (despite wanting them) because the child will increase the carbon footprint of the world is not thinking in a healthy way.


Am I morally obligated to campaign for a cause I believe in?

Sometimes. One person's moral philosophy and another person's moral philosophy may be different. And when these philosophies begin to fight each other because of some campaign, what you regarded as moral, will disappear. So one can discuss your beliefs with other persons. But when it (the discussion) turns into a campaign, its approach also changes. For instance, you may think of the approaches of religions. What will happen if each believer (or all the believers) begins to campaign vigorously to establish/convince their own beliefs?

So I would say it depends on the seriousness of the issue and your ability. Your belief may be wrong and it would create problems to you also if you insisted someone of doing a mistake.

You may verify what Lord Krishna said after revealing even the greatest secret of life. See chapter 18. Verse 63.

If the problem is serious and you are unable to campaign you should find some means to overcome your inability.

The following answer is suitable to this particular problem only.

It is the duty of the Govt. to launch programs, take stern decisions etc. for the common good. Only if you are a divergent thinker (I mean, a good philosopher), inform the government about all the possible pros and cons of that program and also mention which one is better and make a request for a clarification to them if it is against your opinions. If you are sure that that clarification is irrational, YOU ARE OBLIGED to convince others depending on its seriousness especially if it will badly affect the security of the nation, coming generation etc. It is the duty of a citizen to save the nation from any kind of latent menace if he knows one such. If it is apparent, you need not worry. The people will do it for the country. [I don't wish to use the word--'morally', because in any way you are obliged to do so.]

Here a good govt. also have a duty to convince the people of their present opinion about the program mentioning all the possible doubts of the people. A referendum should be conducted only after giving clarification by the government. Since wise people are less there would be a great chance of taking wrong decision by the Govt and it will become a smoldering problem in the country. 'Your' Govt might not have done this properly. This might be the reason why you thought of a campaign.

You may read the following verses from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 18) and think whether there is any touch of morality in doing the activity you mentioned in your question.

verse 59

verse 60

verse 61


Sartre would say that not campaigning means you believe whatever you do instead to be more important. To believe that voting is all you need to do to satisfy yourself that you're furthering the cause is bad faith in his sense.


No, you're not ethically obligated, not morally obligated, not legally obligated. Normative schemes are not coercitive about your way of thinking. In such case, we should force kids to jump out of the windows and fly like superheros.

Normative schemes regulate your actions, not your ideas.

But acting what you think and say is giving coherence to your life. Incoherence means acting against natural laws: "you can't break natural laws; the only thing you can do is breaking yourself against nature". If you act coherent with your thinking, you can grow mentally and avoid internal destructive consequences. If you act coherent with your sayings, you can grow socially and avoid external destructive consequences. That's why it's better (although not illegal) to do what you think or say.

About the effort you should invest: it depends on the impact your ideas will have. If you will just avoid one tree to fall, a small effort sounds logical. But if you can avoid a forest to disappear, a big effort sounds logical.

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