A moral obligation is a duty or responsibility someone feels honor-bound to perform because of personal beliefs and values. This concept is explored in fields like philosophy, ethics, and psychology, where people are interested in the origins of human behavior and the roots of the decision-making process. Some scholars suggest that such obligations are the result of external factors and pressures on the individual, while others feel they are internal, and some think a mix of both is involved.
A common example of a moral obligation is the act of charity. Generally, people are not legally required to give to charities, but they may feel a personal obligation to do so because they believe it is the right thing to do. External pressures like religious beliefs, particularly in Islam, where charity is considered a pillar of faith, can also play a role in charitable activities. When people give to charities, they do so with their personal values as a motivator.
Having a sense of moral duty arises from ideas about right and wrong. These ideas are usually shaped by social, family, and other external pressures. Religious faith often plays a role, as many religions have a number of precepts defining right and wrong behavior and providing guidance to the faithful. Children raised in religious households often internalize these values, and even if they leave the faith later, they may act with a sense of moral obligation in accordance with those values.
No legal relationships or requirements are involved in such an obligation. A passing driver, for example, is not required to help someone who appears to be having engine trouble, but many do anyway. Many acts involve providing services, money, or time to someone who appears to be in need. Following through on promises is another example, with people completing things they have committed to do because they feel personally obliged to do so, even if there are no punishments for failing to finish.
Some psychologists suggest that there may be neurological phenomena behind altruism and related activities. Studies show that people experience chemical rewards in the brain when they do things like engaging in charity. It is possible that human beings are literally hardwired to help each other out, and it is notable that, in people with certain neurological impairments or disruptions in brain chemistry, the sense of right and wrong can be disrupted. Such individuals may have difficulty making decisions based on moral or ethical issues, and may not feel a sense of moral obligation.