‘Stern daughter of the voice of God’ said Wordsworth of duty. I have always rather liked that ‘stern,’ especially when the duty I have been doing has proved difficult or uncongenial. It has a bracing, early-rising-and-cold-baths quality about it, endowing the unpleasantest tasks with a kind of grey grandeur. But the sense of grandeur doesn’t last. We are soon back being merely stoic when we secretly wanted to be saintly. There is a modesty about duty we cannot escape. And yet, doing one’s duty is, or at any rate can be, truly noble. To do what has to be done as well as we can is to say that, no matter how small or insignificant may be the sphere in which we live and move, we want the world to be a better place because we are in it. That is an ambition worth cultivating, and it begins the smallest and simplest of steps: just doing what we should.


7 thoughts on “Duty”

  1. Ah.. Duty, a very interesting topic. Personally I have always liked the philosophy that Kant put around it…
    To quote…
    “Duty : What we ought to do; an action that people are required to perform; the practical content of a moral obligation.
    Therefore, actions are morally right in virtue of their motives, which must derive more from duty than from inclination. The clearest examples of morally right action are precisely those in which an individual agent’s determination to act in accordance with duty overcomes her evident self-interest and obvious desire to do otherwise. The moral value of the action can only reside in a formal principle or “Kantian maxim,” the general commitment to act in this way because it is one’s duty. Thus “Duty is the necessity to act out of reverence for the law.”
    According to Kant, then, the ultimate principle of morality must be a moral law conceived so abstractly that it is capable of guiding us to the right action or duty , in application to every possible set of circumstances. ”

    Now , of course , the idea of “duty” can be taken to other interpretations as well.. Noblesse oblige, for example, or the military ideal of duty.

  2. John Wesley’s Rule.

    Do all the good you can,
    By all the means you can,
    In all the ways you can,
    In all the places you can,
    At all the times you can,
    To all the people you can,
    As long as ever you can.

    John Wesley 1703-1791

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