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October 23, 2015 / Congau

Limits to Duty

Our duties are acquired by ourselves. We get them when we meet our fellow man on our way. We may of course avoid him and lead our life in solitude without duties. It would be a life of freedom, true, but also one of sadness, destitution and misery. Very few people aim at this terrible perfect freedom. We are content to pay for our social needs with the currency of Duty, happily sacrificing some of that frightening freedom.

But luckily we don’t give it all away. We only have as many duties as we have willingly conceded and the rest is freedom. It is as if a contract is signed when entering into a relationship with others. I want to enjoy the befit of your company or your support and in return I am willing to give you whatever may be reasonably expected of me. It may be debated what is reasonable and your own conscience is the main and fallible judge, but however big or small the obligation may be, it does exist. It comes into being the moment you agree to let another creature cross your path. Then the contract is signed, and then you have a duty. Then, but only then.

Only then. That is indeed a relief, isn’t it? Our duties may be severe, weighing heavily upon us, but they are limited. We get into contact only with some people, quite many perhaps, but very few compared to the masses that inhabit this earth. A tiny number demand our deepest care, some more will require some slight attention, but the vast majority will be far beyond our narrow view. We will never see them, and if they exist at all, their existence will be an abstraction to us. We have no duties toward them, for duties are concrete and abstract duties are meaningless. You have an obligation toward this and that person whom you have already encountered, but toward everyone else you are free.

There lives a man in some foreign country. His name is Mr. Smith, but you don’t know that. You have never met him and you never will and his existence will remain hidden from you. Can you possibly have any duties toward him? You cannot.

Do your duty, though.

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