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I have heard this idea before: if you save a person's life, then forever after, you will be responsible for them. The only references I can find to this concept are vague claims that it is an Asian concept, and that it was once referenced in an episode of Kung Fu.

However, I find the concept very interesting. Is this a part of, or result of, a specific philosophy? Is there documented discussion elaborating on this idea? Or is it merely an amusing fiction created by Hollywood?

closed as not constructive by Joseph Weissman Dec 26 '11 at 5:45

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    I think the Philosophy community is taking umbrage to citing a Hollywood plot device as "Philosophy" when the only reference you can find is from from a 35-year old episode of Kung Fu. – Robert Cartaino Jun 25 '11 at 13:38
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    He is asking for more references or for an answer that says with certainty "no it has no philosophical origins", and a downvote without comment is neither. – hippietrail Jun 27 '11 at 7:35
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    The only thing worse than downvotes without comments are comments that whine about downvotes. Downvotes are anonymous for a reason. You aren't forced to leave a comment. Please don't try to guilt people into forgoing that anonymity. If they thought they could add something positive, they would have left a comment of their own accord. The system already reminds them to do so. They obviously chose not to. – Cody Gray Jul 1 '11 at 9:24
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    @Beofett: My comment meant no personal offense, and it's difficult to imagine how you've construed it that way. I don't understand what you think the hypocrisy is, or in what way I've violated community standards. I didn't make the argument that you haven't tried to improve the question. That's quite clearly reflected by the edit history. But I very much take offense at your original comment, chastising those who downvoted your question without a comment. They're under no obligation to do so: that's the community norm. And trying to guilt them into doing so is "rude and unconstructive". – Cody Gray Jul 1 '11 at 11:48
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    Your comment explicitly associates the idea of "common courtesy" with the action of leaving a comment for each and every downvote that you cast. That's not what downvotes are for. You're not meant to take them personally, and they're meant to be anonymous. I feel like I made that clear in my original comment. In my experience, harassing people to justify their downvotes as you've done here negatively affects the community. But that's my personal opinion. I don't speak for the Stack Exchange network or anyone else. A "moderator" title doesn't mean that I'm not allowed to have my own opinions. – Cody Gray Jul 1 '11 at 11:50
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I think it is clear that no-one in society would have an interest in there being such a convention.

  • On the one hand, anyone who thought that they might someday need saving wouldn't favor the policy, since it could mean at the moment of danger that a potential saver would feel inhibited from actually doing the saving, out of concern about the burden arising from the extra responsibility that the policy entails. Thus, before or even during the moment of danger, the would-be saved person, worrying that they might not get saved, would prefer society to abandon the policy.

  • On the other hand, a person who just wants to save another person's life at that moment wouldn't want to be burdened with the extra responsibility of looking after them forever onwards, and hence would also prefer to abandon the policy.

A more logical policy, perhaps, and one which also sometimes appears in the popular culture venues you mention, calls in contrast for the saved person to have some lifelong duty towards the saver.

  • And the converse idea of a life duty or debt has a long tradition in many cultures, notably many ancient greek tragedies draw their tragic consequences from such a debt. – dimo414 Jun 25 '11 at 23:40
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To me it looks like a false dichotomy that stems from improper inversion of the 'opposite' concept that not saving somebody's life if you have the chance to makes you responsible for his death.

So, looks more like typical Hollywood fiction.

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