“First, let me tell you about an experiment. This was done as an undergraduate thesis project with a wonderful student named Jay Musen. We asked people a whole bunch of questions about helping people, and one of the starkest comparisons goes like this: In one version, you’re traveling on vacation in a poor country. You have this nice cottage up in the mountains overlooking the coast and the sea, and then a terrible typhoon hits and there’s widespread devastation, and there are people without food, medicine, there are sanitary problems, and people are getting sick, and you can help. There’s already a relief effort on the ground, and what they need is just money to provide supplies, and you can make a donation. You’ve got your credit card, and you can help these people. And we ask people, do you have an obligation to help? And a majority, about 60-something percent of the people said yes, you have an obligation to do something to help these people down on the coast below that you can see.
“Then we asked a separate group of people the following question: Suppose your friend is vacationing in this faraway place, and you describe the situation as exactly the same, except instead of you there, it’s your friend who’s there. Your friend has a smart phone and can show you everything that’s going on; everything your friend sees, you can see. The best way to help is to donate money, and you can do that from home just as well. Do you have an obligation to help? And here, about half as many people say that it’s okay, that you have an obligation to help—about 30 percent.”
(Mr. Greene, author of Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, talks about Deep Pragmatism in a 28 minute video.)