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Decison making

Asked by L+J | Aug 26, 2008 | GCSE Level > Sociology > Revision
L+J asks:

how is duty the basis of ethical decision making?

etutor answers:

This was classified as GCSE Level Sociology though it is really A level Political Theory.

How is duty the basis of ethical decision making?

Duty, or more usually OBLIGATION, is a requirement to act in a particular way. Hart distinguished between being obliged to do something, which implies an element of coercion, and having an obligation to do something, which suggests only a moral duty. This can be seen in the distinction between legal and moral obligations. Legal obligations, such as the requirement to pay taxes and obey other laws, are enforceable through the courts and backed up by a system of penalties. Such obligations may be upheld on grounds of simple prudence - whether laws are right or wrong, they are obeyed out of a fear of punishment. Moral obligations, on the other hand, are fulfilled not because it is sensible to do so but because such conduct is thought to be rightful or morally/ethically correct. To give a promise, for example, is to be under a moral obligation to carry it out, regardless of the consequences which breaking the promise would entail.

In a sense, rights and obligations are two sides of the same coin. To possess a right usually places someone else under an obligation to uphold or respect that right. If the right to life is meaningful, for instance, then the state is subject to an obligation to maintain public order and ensure personal security. However, if citizens are bearers of rights alone and all obligations fall upon the state, orderly and civilised life would be impossible, as individuals who possess rights but acknowledge no obligations would be lawless and unrestrained. Citizenship, therefore, entails a blend of rights and obligations; the most basic form of the latter is the duty of the citizen to acknowledge the authority of the state and to obey its laws. Hence the classic explanation of political obligation is found in the idea of a social contract (Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau) - i.e. the belief that there are clear rational and moral grounds for respecting state authority. Some philosophers go further, and argue that obligations and duties are not merely contractual, but are instead an intrinsic feature of any stable society.

I hope this is helpful.

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