How can we choose our duty?

Posted on 2012-03-15
Last Modified: 2012-03-19
I attended a fascinating talk by a Christian academic last night in which he expressed concern about a loss of sense of duty. He felt that in our "consumerist" culture people felt they were free to do what they wanted, so choose what religion they wanted, to switch denominations if they felt like it and so on.

His point was that God is God and we can't choose what he is like or make him more how we would like him to be. More generally people don't have a sense of doing something out of duty, but just because they enjoy it or they want to do it.

Another example - an overheard conversation:
Student 1: You really ought to become a Roman Catholic
Student 2: Why ?
Student 1: Because it is so *you*
Student 2: But what if I don't like it?
Student 1: Well just give it a try and if you don't like it, leave...

Again, no sense of having to do something, but trying something and if you enjoy it, carry on with it until it stops being interesting.

I think he made his point well, but I have a massive problem with what he is saying. If we just don't think the belief system we are in makes any sense, or doesn't meet our needs, or doesn't help us in any way, are we then still supposed to go along with it?

More generally - do we just do as we are told by our "leaders" or "betters" whether it works for us or not?

The best way I can express the problem is - do we choose our duty? By definition a "duty" is a given we can't avoid, but how do we know what it is? Don't we have to choose it in some sense ?

Anyway I'd be interested if anyone has any comments on this - for or against.
Question by:purplesoup
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Assisted Solution

tliotta earned 10 total points
ID: 37726091 we choose our duty?

Might as well ask if we have 'free will'.

It seems to me that your question could be rephrased in various ways to illustrate various perspectives. The first that came to mind to me was "Does 'duty' exist outside of ourselves?" And then, "Can there be more than one 'duty'?" And "Can multiple 'duties' conflict?"

I believe that 'free will' exists. So, I feel that we can choose a 'duty' when opportunity exists.

Some coercive environments make choice difficult or impossible. If any genetic variation influences types of choices that are made, then the killing or banishment of contrary individuals could make many choices less likely over time in a population.

I'm also certain we make mistakes.

LVL 18

Accepted Solution

WaterStreet earned 40 total points
ID: 37727366
Hi purplesoup.

"How can we choose our duty?"

1.  "[D]o we just do as we are told by our "leaders" or "betters" whether it works for us or not?"

Historically, that is what is always done by parents, "leaders," and "betters" in raising children. That has been the successful model for advancing societies, whether we like(d) those societies or not.  I believe there comes a time when children mature enough to evaluate what they have been told; and they need to access to information beyond what they have learned so far.

2.  "Don't we have to choose it in some sense ?"

I think everyone needs to do that, as we grow and get to understand more about people outside of our own groups, and if we have grown-up mislead.  I believe we have a continuing duty to question and critically examine what we are told.  If there is conflicting information then I believe the individual has a duty resolve it to his satisfaction.

3.  "He felt that in our "consumerist" culture people felt they were free to do what they wanted, so choose what religion they wanted, to switch denominations if they felt like it and so on."

Yes; and probably switching away from his religion too.  

The entire world is becoming a consumerist culture where a major part of that is a hunger for, and consumption, of information.  I think this is a new milestone in the development of our earthly civilization where competing viewpoints are becoming more available on a global basis.

4.  "His point was that God is God and we can't choose what he is like or make him more how we would like him to be."

Yes; and I'll bet he is just the kind of person who is ready, willing and able to preach to us exactly what he thinks (his version of) God is all about and what God wants from us.

Here is my suggestion to help untangle our duties from what the so called "leaders" and "betters" would have us do.  Again, we need to question what we hear, and learn to be critical about what we are told.  In my opinion, it is very easy and it is something that can be done without the God talk.  Think about our duty as making the world a better place here and now.  Not in some after-world and not by telling people what they should believe.   I think our best clue as to which so called "leaders" and "betters" not to follow is to look around and see who is irrationally condemning others.  

The simplest way seems to be the way that makes the most sense.  I believe our duty is to improve the world for everyone through the pursuit of justice, kindness and helping those who are not as fortunate as we are.

Author Comment

ID: 37729894
Thanks - good replies and food for thought.

The whole idea of duty is something that is sort of given to us. It is an imperative - I guess a moral imperative. To do your duty is something you feel obliged to do whether you enjoy it or it makes you happy.

Therefore as a given it could be said to be your conscience or your sense of right and wrong. In that sense you don't "choose" it.

However as has been mentioned above, we are constantly reflecting on the information given to us, we are critically examining what we are told, and ensuring that the ideas and information that underpin our values are themselves correct.

So we don't choose our values but we do (or should) critically examine our justifications for our values, in order that our duty becomes something rationally justifiable and not simply obeying orders.

How does that sound?
LVL 18

Expert Comment

ID: 37731161
Sounds good to me.

Author Closing Comment

ID: 37737209
thanks for your thoughts

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