Academic journal article Review of Contemporary Philosophy

Definition of Duty and Freedom with Conflict

Academic journal article Review of Contemporary Philosophy

Definition of Duty and Freedom with Conflict

Article excerpt


The author gives a definition of duty and freedom. Many other normative concepts like crime, harm, guilt, punishment and justification are defined too. The aim is to define these concepts in not normative but descriptive terms. The conceptual basis of the theory is the concept of will. Nevertheless the conception is not volitional in the classic meaning, because what is basic here is the difference of wills in a group of persons (at least two), which is called a conflict. The definition is: a duty of a person in relation to a conflict is what the person has to do for the peace concluded in the conflict could last. Additionally the author presents a list of conditions which a good theory of duty is to meet and list of question which it has to answer for. In short discussion it is argued that Kant's theory is not a good one, and that the presented theory meets all the constraints. Frankfurt's case, supererogation and forgiveness are discussed too.

Keywords: duty; freedom; conflict; peace; guilt; punishment; satisfaction; will; supererogation; forgiveness

One of the concepts which are very little elaborated in analytic philosophy is the concept of duty. Seeking for the definition only you can be disappointed. Encyclopedias should sum up previous scientific efforts but in reference to the definition of duty they remain silent. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Zalta 2013) does not contain any entry like "duty" or "obligation." The same is with Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fieser and Dowden 2013). To tell the truth the entry "Ethics" contains the paragraph titled "Duty Theories" but you will not find any good explanation of the concept there. Duties rather are enumerated, classified and described. Some principles are given upon which it would be possible to determine which rules of conduct are duties.

Even when you find a direct description of the concept the disappointment does not leave you. It is so, because the explanations are simple, intuitive and commonly known. They cannot be taken as a result of any analytic research. You can meet phrases saying that a duty is:

"Whatever is necessary or required; or whatever one is morally obliged to do, as opposed to what one may be pleased or inclined to do" (Runes 1942)

"Something that is due,"

"Obligatory service,"

"Something that one is bound to perform or to avoid" (Appleton 1907),

"What we ought to do; an action that people are required to perform; the practical content of a moral obligation." (Kemerling 2011)

You can also meet more contextual explanations like:

"if I have a right to payment of $10 by Smith, then Smith has a duty to pay me $10" (Fieser 2009, explaining rights theory)

"When, concerning a contemplated acts one forms the decision T ought to do it,' the words express an intellectual judgment. But unlike speculative judgments, this one is felt to be not merely declaratory. Nor is it merely preferential; it asserts itself as imperative and magisterial. It is accompanied by a feeling impelling one, sometimes effectively, sometimes ineffectively to square his conduct with it. It presumes that there is a right way and a wrong way open, and that the right is better or more worthy than the wrong." (Appleton 1907)

The disappointment appears because finally you find out that all these elucidations circle within a magical area of concepts, and a breakout from it seems to be impossible. All the concepts may be better or worse defined, some of them with some others, and all they equally lack an external definition. The group is called "the normative concepts," and contains such ideas like: duty (something due), obligation, commitment, requirement, to bind, to impel, ought to do, imperative, magisterial, right to do, wrong to do, morality, someone's right, and more.

Additionally you notice that whereas there is no definition of any normative concept with any external ones various detailed problems are being worked out, like supererogation, political obligation or legitimate authority. …

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