Duty (from "due" meaning "that which is owing"; Old French: deu, did, past participle of devoir; Latin: debere, debitum, whence "debt") is a term that conveys a sense of moral commitment or obligation to someone or something. The moral commitment should result in action; it is not a matter of passive feeling or mere recognition. When someone recognizes a duty, that person theoretically commits himself to its fulfillment without considering their own self-interest. This is not to suggest that living a life of duty entirely precludes a life of leisure; however, its fulfillment generally involves some sacrifice of immediate self-interest. Typically, "the demands of justice, honor, and reputation are deeply bound up" with duty.
Cicero, an early philosopher who discusses duty in his work “On Duty", suggests that duties can come from four different sources:
- as result of being human
- as a result of one's particular place in life (one's family, one's country, one's job)
- as a result of one's character
- as a result of one's own moral expectations for oneself
Various derivative uses of the word have sprung from the root idea of obligation, a concept involved in the notion of duty; thus it is used in the services performed by a minister of a church, by a soldier, or by any employee or servant.
Many schools of thought have debated the idea of duty. While many assert mankind's duty on their own terms, some philosophers have absolutely rejected a sense of duty.
Duty has to be accepted and understood on the basis of one's foundation of sense and knowledge. Therefore, duty and its manifestations vary with values from culture to culture. On one hand duty may be seen as terms of reference, job description, or behavior - and it is all of that ... but duty is not only about doing things right, it is about doing the right thing.
- obey the law
- pay tax
- provide for a common defense, should the need arise
- enroll to vote, and vote at all elections and referenda (unless there is a reasonable excuse such as a religious objection, being overseas or illness on polling day)
- serve on a jury, if called upon
- going to the aid of victims of accidents and street-crime and testifying as a witness later in court.
- reporting contagious illnesses or pestilence to public-health authorities.
- volunteering for public services (e.g. life-saving drills)
- donating blood
In most cultures, children are expected to take on duties in relation to their families. This may take the form of behaving in such a way that upholds the family’s honor in the eyes of the community, entering into arranged marriages that benefit the family’s status, or caring for ailing relatives. This family-oriented sense of duty is a particularly central aspect to the teachings of Confucius, and is known as xiao, or filial piety. As such, the duties of filial piety have played an enormous role in the lives of people in eastern Asia for centuries. For example, the painting Lady Feng and the Bear, from ancient China, depicts the heroic act of a consort of the emperor placing herself between her husband and a rampaging bear. This is meant to be taken as an example of admirable filial behavior. Filial piety is considered so important that in some cases, it outweighs other cardinal virtues: In a more modern example, “concerns with filial piety of the same general sort that motivate women to engage in factory work in Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and elsewhere in Asia are commonly cited by Thai prostitutes as one of their primary rationales for working in the skin trade”. The importance of filial piety can be expressed in this quote from "The Analects of Confucius", "Yu Tzu said, ‘It is rare for a man whose character is such that he is good as a son and obedient as a young man to have the inclination to transgress against his superiors; it is unheard of for one who has no such inclination to be inclined to start a rebellion. The gentleman devotes his efforts to the roots, for once the roots are established, the Way will grow there from. Being good as a son and obedient as a young man is, perhaps, the root of a man's character."
Duty in various cultures
Duty varies between different cultures and continents. Duty in Asia and Latin America is commonly more heavily weighted than in Western culture. According to a study done on attitudes toward family obligation:
- "Asian and Latin American adolescents possessed stronger values and greater expectations regarding their duty to assist, respect, and support their families than their peers with European backgrounds."
The deeply rooted tradition of duty among both Asian and Latin American cultures contributes to much of the strong sense of duty that exists in comparison to western cultures. Michael Peletz discusses the concept of duty in his book Gender, Sexuality, and Body Politics in Modern Asia:
- "Notions of filial duty … are commonly invoked to mobilize the loyalties, labor power, and other resources children in the ostensible interests of the household and, in some cases, those of the lineage clan as a whole. Doctrines of filial piety … attuned to them may thus be a source of great comfort and solace to the elders but they can also be experienced as stressful, repressive, or both by those who are enjoined to honor their parents’ (and grandparents’) wishes and unspoken expectations."
An arranged marriage is an example of an expected duty in Asia and the Middle East. In an arranged marriage relating to duty, it is expected that the wife will move in with the husband’s family and household to raise their children. Patrilocal residence is usual; R arely does the man move in with the woman, or is the married couple allowed to start their own household and life somewhere else. They need to provide for the entire family in labor and care for the farms and family. Older generations rely heavily on the help from their children's and grandchildren's families. This form of duty is in response to keeping the lineage of a family intact and obliging to the needs of elders.
Criticisms of the concept of duty
Friedrich Nietzsche is among the fiercest critics of the concept of duty. "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”?" (The Antichrist, § 11)
Nietzsche claims that the task of all higher education is "to turn men into machines." The way to turn men into machines is to teach them to tolerate boredom. This is accomplished, Nietzsche says, by means of the concept of duty. (Twilight of the Idols, “Skirmishes of an untimely man” § 9.29)
- Cicero, Marcus T. De Officiis. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1913. Print.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Duty". Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 736.
- Ekman, Joakim; Amnå, Erik (2009). "Political Participation and Civic Engagement: Towards A New Typology" (PDF). Youth & Society (Working Paper) (2): 4.
- Peletz, Michael Gates. Gender, Sexuality, and Body Politics in Modern Asia. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, 2011. Print.
- Fuligni, A. J., Tseng, V. and Lam, M. (1999), Attitudes toward Family Obligations among American Adolescents with Asian, Latin American, and European Backgrounds. Child Development, 70: 1030–1044. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00075.
- Peletz, Michael G. Gender, Sexuality, and Body Politics in Modern Asia. Ann Arbor: Association for Asian Studies, 2011. Print.
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