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Duty (from "due," that which is owing, O. Fr. deu, did, past participle of devoir; Lat. debere, debitum; cf. "debt") is a term that conveys a sense of moral commitment to someone or something. The moral commitment is the sort that results in action, and it is not a matter of passive feeling or mere recognition. When someone recognizes a duty, they commit themselves to the cause involved without considering the self-interested courses of actions that may have been relevant previously. This is not to suggest that living a life of duty precludes one from the best sort of life, but duty does involve some sacrifice of immediate self-interest.
Cicero is an early philosopher who acknowledged this possibility. He discusses duty in his work “On Duty." He suggests that duties can come from four different sources:
- It is a result of being human
- It is a result of one's particular place in life (your family, your country, your job)
- It is a result of one's personality
- One's own moral expectations for yourself can generate duties
But it seems that one can be compelled to live up to a duty. That is not always the case. In the case of mandatory child support, a parent is being put in such a position.
From the root idea of obligation to serve or give something in return, involved in the conception of duty, have sprung various derivative uses of the word; thus it is used of 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 as motivation
Duty and personality
Individuals vary systematically in their emphasis on the role of duty in the conduct of their life. This tends to be associated with conservatism.
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
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