login about faq

Objectivism doesn't really seem to accept the concept of "duty" or "obligation to others". Thus, what is the thinking about "duty" in the military context? Having the capacity for armed self-defense is important for a proper government, so what about the concept of "duty" in the armed forces: a soldier can be commanded to take a hill as his "duty" even when he might feel that he could die in so doing (and maybe not even get the hill...). He could also be told that staying behind to nurse a wounded comrade is his "duty" even when he has no desire to stay behind in a dangerous fire zone. In fact the concept of honor and duty pervades military service and is reminiscent of tribal honor, pride and duty to the tribe. Are we to assume that once someone freely joins the military that "duty" becomes a valid concept and something he should honor? Is collective tribalism totally valid in a military warrior concept? Clearly soldiers are not "free" in a war to do as they see fit individually and seem to band together with bonds of honor and duty.

asked Dec 07 '11 at 16:34

Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image


edited Dec 07 '11 at 18:47

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Hi, Danneskjold_repo. That's not quite right: Objectivism does regard "obligation to others" as legitimate and important. What Objectivists reject is unchosen obligations to others. A valid account of rights cannot posit unchosen positive obligations or duties for anyone, to anyone. I have something I wrote in another context that applies here that I can recycle a bit of:

All positive obligations arise by choice in a rights-respecting society. We are not sacrificial animals; socially, we are best characterized as contractual animals with the capacity for living productively by reason and dealing with others by persuasion and trade. Thus we can and routinely do choose to accept genuine obligations to others in the course of pursuing the tremendous values possible to those living in a proper, rights-respecting society. It is important to note that undertaking obligations does not mean any limitation or ceding of one's inalienable rights; indeed, adopting positive obligations is an expression and affirmation of rights. And one can violate another's rights by failing in one's (necessarily voluntary) positive obligations.

Consider that people can explicitly adopt responsibility for helping others, as with police and firefighters and the soldiers you bring up: in a free society of course these people have no automatic duty to protect or rescue anyone. But once they agree to do so, it becomes a rights violation to then arbitrarily withhold protection and rescue efforts as needed to their clients. (Unless doing their jobs would mean simply sacrificing their own lives, of course. While accepting such a job could entail agreeing to engage in extraordinarily risky activity, it cannot require outright suicide.)

And people can also implicitly adopt responsibility for caring for others: If Bob decides to take Mary for a ride out to sea, he does not have the right to then order her off his boat to her death. That would be murder because Bob chose to bring Mary -- another person -- into a state of vital dependence on him. Mary's rights would be violated by then arbitrarily removing his support and thrusting her into mortal danger rather than delivering her safely from the dependent condition he created. (And note that such withdrawal of support would be a rights violation no matter whether she was threatened by his explicit design, depraved indifference, or mere recklessness.) Bob is responsible for Mary's welfare until the dependence he invited has ended. (This analogy illuminates the nature of the obligations parents take on in choosing to have children.)

answered Dec 07 '11 at 18:44

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Ayn Rand's quote is "There are no unchosen obligations". The word "positive" might be considered implicit, but I consider it superfluous. To be obligated to someone means to be morally required to provide a value to them. The notion that one is obligated, albeit "negatively", to avoid punching them seems strange to me. The moral requirement not to punch someone is not an "obligation". "Obligation", as such, is positive. Every actual obligation is a moral requirement, but not every moral requirement is an obligation.

(Dec 08 '11 at 21:21) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

As usual.Very clarifying. My thanks to Greg and John for enlightening us on this important topic. The more I think about it: contractual "obligations" make the world go around.

(Dec 09 '11 at 10:32) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I just want to add to Greg's excellent answer that the term "duty" is used as a package-deal in society today. The definition of duty is: the moral necessity to perform certain actions for no reason other than obedience to some higher authority, without regard to any personal goal, motive, desire or interest. To put it another way, a duty is an unchosen obligation. Thus, duty is adamantly rejected by Objectivism.

However, in current usage people regard "duty" as including any obligation---whether voluntarily assumed or imposed from beyond. Voluntarily assumed obligations, as Greg explains, are perfectly moral. Thus, the term "duty" as used today packages together two essentially different concepts: immoral unchosen obligations and moral chosen obligations.

Also, note that soldiers do obey a higher authority when they follow orders, which might seem a first glance to fall under the meaning of "duty." However, one cannot forget that they chose (at least in a proper military) to assume the obligations of a soldier, which include obeying lawful orders. Thus, they do not obey for no reason other than obedience, as "duty" requires---the reason they follow the orders is because they know that (1) they assumed the obligation to follow orders, (2) a military mission cannot succeed without intelligently coordinated action of the soldiers, which requires each soldier to follow orders (and presumably they want the mission to succeed), and (3) those giving the orders have more information about the situation and it is generally in a soldiers interest to obey the order. Note that "duty" does not allow for any choice by the individual, but that even in highly regimented military organizations the individual still retains some choice---he can refuse to obey unlawful orders, and, as Greg notes, is not required to commit suicide (although he is required to assume great risks).

answered Dec 08 '11 at 09:27

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Share This Page:



Asked: Dec 07 '11 at 16:34

Seen: 1,947 times

Last updated: Dec 09 '11 at 10:32