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Relationships Alone Do Not Create Obligations

Premise: Jack and Jill have a relationship.

Challenge: Name one obligation Jack has to Jill.

The point is that I have thus proven relationships, in and of themselves, do not create or entail obligations.

Note: "to act rightly towards Jill" does not count, because all people should act rightly towards all people already.


Elliot Temple on January 5, 2004

Comments (14)

What exactly is a "relationship" anyway? Or is that your point.


Blixa at 3:07 PM on January 5, 2004 | #751

Can you give an example of a relationship that doesn't involve any obligations? It seems to me that obligations would be determined by the nature/ content of the relationship, rather than the fact that it exists, and we don't know anything about the content of Jack and Jill's relationship from your example.


Alice Bachini at 6:38 AM on January 6, 2004 | #752

People create obligations to each other all the time, but why do you insist on saying it has something to do with having relationships?



Why not ask me, "Can you give an example of a form of borrowing sugar that doesn't involve any obligations?" No. But saying obligations have something to do with sugar makes little sense.


Elliot at 6:46 AM on January 6, 2004 | #753

Don't all relationships consist of something like "borrowing sugar", and if so, doesn't that mean they all contain obligations too? Not because of sugar, but because of the nature of ongoing common-preference-making (which is the best way I can think of to characterise what relationships consist of)?


Alice at 7:50 AM on January 6, 2004 | #754

ooh ooh I know this one. It's to do with fetching a pail of water, and then Jill falling over shortly after Jack tumbles and cracks his head open ('breaks his crown').





Any obligation within a relationship is defined by the relationship itself. Aren't there always unwritten (and possibly implicit) codes of expected behaviour between two specific people in a specific set of circumstances? Maybe "they are in a relationship" is a shorthand way of saying that the two people have more clearly defined and narrowly circumscribed codes of expected behaviour than the standard "acting rightly"? But what those codes are will depend on Jack, Jill and the bucket of water.


emma at 8:13 AM on January 6, 2004 | #755

Does "relationship" even have a definition over and above "a specific set of (usually) tacitly-agreed-upon obligations between two people"? In which case, your point is incorrect. Relationships *do* entail obligations (more specific, or more, than just "act rightly") because if they didn't, they wouldn't be relationships. They'd be a coupla strangers with no obligation to each other other than to abstractly "act rightly" towards each other. (The "null relationship", perhaps...?)


Blixa at 11:39 AM on January 6, 2004 | #756

Surely 'relationship' describes interaction between two or more parties. Whether such interaction involves obligaton is decided by the specific 'relationship'.



A relationship of itself, does not require, nor does it preclude, any sacrifice by one or either party involved.



If 'sacrifice', no matter how trivial, does occur, then you have the construct of obligation, and the consequent concept of indebtedness.



Therefore, in it's simplest form, Jack does not have any obligation to Jill. However, if Jack had previously asked Jill to accompany him 'up the hill', then Jill makes a sacrifice, (of her time etc. in actually going 'up the hill'), then Jack has an obligation to ensure Jill's safety and well being, the fact that he then fell down, shows just how big a jerk Jack really was, and what the hell was he doing taking a nice girl like Jill out, in the first place?.



All this proves is that 'relationships' are a 'give and take' affair, and the level of 'obligation' is changing all the time. How many times have you heard the expression 'He/she is one of the worlds' takers/givers'. These sort of one-sided relationships are often fraught with problems, for just the fact that they are so unbalanced.



Relationships without obligations are not really relationships, the ultimate balance of obligation, defines whether a relationship is successful or not.


attila at 8:28 PM on January 6, 2004 | #757

Surely 'relationship' describes interaction between two or more parties. Whether such interaction involves obligaton is decided by the specific 'relationship'.



I'm hard pressed to think of interactions that don't entail some *specific* obligations of some kind. Like, the relationship/interaction between a guy and his hooker: he's obligated to pay her X dollars, she's obligated to...



A relationship of itself, does not require, nor does it preclude, any sacrifice by one or either party involved.



A relationship with no tacit obligations between the two other than to vaguely act rightly is what I've been calling the "null relationship". What is an example of such a relationship, which actually involves interaction?



Even my mailman & I have a relationship involving obligations. He's obligated to deliver the mail to me, I'm (diffusely) obligated to pay my taxes and not sic my dog on him...



Relationships without obligations are not really relationships



Doesn't this undermine your/Elliott's point and prove mine?


Blixa at 9:09 AM on January 7, 2004 | #758

Exactly, you call it a 'null relationship', you could also call it an 'inactive' relationship.



The point is that the non-obligatory relationship is 'inactive', but it is still a relationship.



Like it or not, we all have relationships, even with people we have never met, they are just 'null' or 'inactive'. When we have a relationship with another, the effects extend beyond just the other person, and, like ripples in a pond, eventually will affect everyone in a given group. Such effect most likely will be infitessimal, but it will be there, none-the-less.



So really our world is comprised of nothing much more than 'null' relationships, of which we only get to 'activate' a small number.



So proving the point made by Elliot:



That,"relationships, in and of themselves, do not create or entail obligations."


attila at 12:19 PM on January 7, 2004 | #759

Ok, so non-trivial relationships do create or entail obligations, then.



It's only all those trivial/null/non-obligatorys relationships one has with, like, strangers halfway around the world which entail no additional obligations.



I agree. Good point.


Blixa at 12:30 PM on January 7, 2004 | #760

the *elements of* non-trivial relationships create/entail obligations. that's different. obligations can *always* be traced to specific elements of the relationship that created them. which is important. especially when people say some obligation exists but can't trace it to anything specific and just say it's part of "the relationship". such claims are no good.


Elliot at 12:46 PM on January 7, 2004 | #761

So your point is that relationships which add virtually no value to one's life have no entangling obligations. While I guess that's an important point to make clear, I think what's necessary is what sort of obligations the various configurations of deep serious intimate relationships can morally entail.


JustinM at 1:27 PM on January 7, 2004 | #762

Elliott,



especially when people say some obligation exists but can't trace it to anything specific and just say it's part of "the relationship". such claims are no good.



aha, it's becoming clearer what you have in mind, perhaps (?)



Well, I would guess these claims are no good - when they are - because the person making the claim had different ideas about what kind of "relationship" he/she was in than did the other member of that "relationship", and that this all was never clarified. The obligations making up a "relationship" are in theory supposed to be tacitly agreed upon but, you're right, in practice the two relationshipees can have very different views about what kind of "relationship"/"set of obligations" they are participating in together. Like one thinks the "relationship" entails almost no additional obligations, while the other assumes it entails lots of 'em. And if it's never discussed then obviously the latter person has no case for anything.


Blixa at 2:19 PM on January 7, 2004 | #763

i only meant the argument is no good. even if the two ppl have never discussed some obligation, and the argument being given for it is crap, it may still exist.



and i don't approve of doing this:



X set of relationship elements --> Y "kind" of relationship

Y "kind" of relationship --> Z obligations



I think it's better to just go



X set of relationship elements --> Z obligations



in the extra step a lot of crap sneaks in, and precision gets lost, and stereotypes confuse ppl, etc


Elliot at 2:27 PM on January 7, 2004 | #764

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)