Duty (from "due," that which is owing, O. Fr. deu, did, past participle of devoir; Lat. debere, debitum; cf. "debt") is a term loosely applied to any action (or course of action) which is regarded as morally incumbent, apart from personal likes and dislikes or any external compulsion.
- By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion. The State is competent to assign duties and draw the line between good and evil only in its immediate sphere. Beyond the limits of things necessary for its well-being, it can only give indirect help to fight the battle of life by promoting the influences which prevail against temptation, — religion, education, and the distribution of wealth.
- Thanks to the gods! my boy has done his duty.
- Joseph Addison, Cato, A Tragedy (1713), Act IV, scene 4
- We live in a nightmare of falsehoods, and there are few who are sufficiently awake and aware to see things as they are. Our first duty is to clear away illusions and recover a sense of reality.
- When I'm not thank'd at all, I'm thank'd enough:
I've done my duty, and I've done no more.
- Henry Fielding, Tom Thumb the Great (1730), Act I, scene 3
- ...if inequalities stare us in the face the essential equality too is not to be missed. Every man has an equal right to the necessaries of life even as birds and beasts have. And since every right carries with it a corresponding duty and the corresponding remedy for resisting any attack upon it, it is merely a matter of finding out the corresponding duties and remedies to vindicate the elementary fundamental equality.
- Jesus ... combines all duties (1) in one universal rule (which includes within itself both the inner and the outer moral relations of men), namely: Perform your duty for no motive other than unconditioned esteem for duty itself, i.e., love God (the Legislator of all duties) above all else; and (2) in a particular rule, that, namely, which concerns man’s external relation to other men as universal duty: Love every one as yourself, i.e., further his welfare from good-will that is immediate and not derived from motives of self-advantage. These commands are not mere laws of virtue but precepts of holiness which we ought to pursue, and the very pursuit of them is called virtue.
- Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, Book IV, Part 1, Section 1, “The Christian religion as a natural religion”
- Left that command
Sole daughter of his voice.
- I thought the remnant of mine age
Should have been cherish'd by her child-like duty.
- The primal duties shine aloft, like stars:
The charities that soothe, and heal, and bless
Are scattered at the feet of Man, like flowers.
- William Wordsworth, The Excursion (1814), Book IX
- What destroys a man more quickly than to work, think, and feel without inner necessity, without any deep personal desire, without pleasure — as a mere automaton of “duty.”
- “What is the task of all higher education?” To turn men into machines. “What are the means?” Man must learn to be bored. “How is that accomplished?” “By means of the concept of duty.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, “Skirmishes of an untimely man” § 9.29
- Consider the way “moral man” … is veiled behind moral formulas and concepts of decency — the way our actions are benevolently concealed by the concepts of duty, virtue, sense of community, honorableness, self-denial. … I am not suggesting that all this is meant to mask human malice and villainy, the wild animal in us; my idea is, on the contrary, that it is precisely as tame animals that we are a shameful sight and in need of the moral disguise.
- It is difficult to preach, this morality of mediocrity! It may never admit what it is and what it wants! It must speak about restraint and worth and duty and love of one’s neighbor.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, I. Johnston, trans., § 262.
- "What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism," Kitto comments, "is not a sense of duty as we understand it... duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate 'virtue' but is in Greek areté, 'excellence' — we shall have much to say about areté. It runs through Greek life."
There, Phædrus thinks, is a definition of Quality that had existed a thousand years before the dialecticians ever thought to put it to word-traps. Anyone who cannot understand this meaning without logical definiens and definendum and differentia is either lying or so out of touch with the common lot of humanity as to be unworthy of receiving any reply whatsoever.
- Evangelical Christianity conspires with technical and economic rationalism. In the end, they both require a commitment to “duty” that masks unspeakable violence and injustice.
- Curtis White, "The spirit of disobedience: an invitation to resistance," Harper's Magazine, April 1, 2006
Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations
- Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 207-08.
- In doing what we ought we deserve no praise, because it is our duty.
- He who is false to present duty breaks a thread in the loom, and will find the flaw when he may have forgotten its cause.
- Henry Ward Beecher, Life Thoughts.
- To do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me.
- Book of Common Prayer, Catechism.
- Maintain your post: That's all the fame you need;
For 'tis impossible you should proceed.
- John Dryden, to Mr. Congreve, on his Comedy "The Double Dealer".
- Not aw'd to duty by superior sway.
- John Dryden, Eleonora, line 178.
- And rank for her meant duty, various,
Yet equal in its worth, done worthily.
Command was service; humblest service done
By willing and discerning souls was glory.
- George Eliot, Agatha.
- The reward of one duty is the power to fulfil another.
- George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (1876), Book VI, Chapter XLVI.
- So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man.
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Voluntaries, Stanza 3, line 13.
- In common things the law of sacrifice takes the form of positive duty.
- James Anthony Froude, Short Studies on Great Subjects, Sea Studies.
- Was aber ist deine Pflicht? Die Forderung des Tages.
- But what is your duty? What the day demands.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Sprüche in Prosa, III. 151.
- Hath the spirit of all beauty
Kissed you in the path of duty?
- Anna Katharine Green, On the Threshold.
- Then on! then on! where duty leads,
My course be onward still.
- Reginald Heber, Journal.
- I slept and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty:—
Was thy dream then a shadowy lie?
- Ellen Sturgis Hooper, Duty.
- Take up the White Man's burden.
- Rudyard Kipling, The White Man's Burden. To the United States (Feb. 4, 1899); in McClure's Magazine (February, 1899).
- Thet tells the story! Thet's wut we shall git
By tryin' squirtguns on the burnin' Pit;
For the day never comes when it'll du
To kick on dooty like a worn-out shoe.
- James Russell Lowell, The Biglow Papers (1848), No. 11.
- Straight is the line of duty;
Curved is the line of beauty;
Follow the straight line, thou shalt see
The curved line ever follow thee.
- William MacCall, Duty.
- Every mission constitutes a pledge of duty. Every man is bound to consecrate his every faculty to its fulfilment. He will derive his rule of action from the profound conviction of that duty.
- Giuseppe Mazzini, Life and Writings, Young Europe, General Principles.
- The things which must be, must be for the best,
God helps us do our duty and not shrink,
And trust His mercy humbly for the rest.
- Owen Meredith (Lord Lytton), Imperfection.
- Knowledge is the hill which few may wish to climb;
Duty is the path that all may tread.
- Thy sum of duty let two words contain,
(O may they graven in thy heart remain!)
Be humble and be just.
- Matthew Prior, Solomon on the Vanity of the World, Book III.
- And I read the moral—A brave endeavour
To do thy duty, whate'er its worth,
Is better than life with love forever,
And love is the sweetest thing on earth.
- James J. Roche, Sir Hugo's Choice.
- Alas! when duty grows thy law, enjoyment fades away.
- Friedrich Schiller, The Playing Infant.
- Not once or twice in our rough island story,
The path of duty was the way to glory.
- Alfred Tennyson, Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington, Stanza 8.
- Simple duty hath no place for fear.
- John Greenleaf Whittier, Tent on the Beach, Abraham Davenport, last line.
- Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
The confidence of reason give;
And in the light of truth thy
Bondman let me live!
- William Wordsworth, Ode to Duty.
- Stern Daughter of the Voice of God.
- William Wordsworth, Ode to Duty.
- Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring, and reprove.
- William Wordsworth, Ode to Duty.
Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)
Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
- Man not only owes his services but himself to God.
- Author unidentified, p. 199.
- Not until the soul is fastened in loving sympathies upon God as its centre, will it sweep the orbit of duty.
- Author unidentified, p. 200.
- It is not the profession of religion which creates the obligation for the performance of duty; for that existed before any such profession was made. The profession of religion only recognises the obligation.
- Albert Barnes, p. 200.
- The moment you can make a very simple discovery; viz., that obligation to God is your privilege, and is not imposed as a burden, your experience will teach you many things, — that duty is liberty, that repentance is a release from sorrow, that sacrifice is gain, that humility is dignity, that the truth from which you hide is a healing element that bathes your disordered life, and that even the penalties and terrors of God are the artillery only of protection to His realm.
- Horace Bushnell, p. 199.
- In the sacred fact of obligation you touch the immutable, and lay hold, as it were, on the eternities. At the very centre of your being, there is a fixed element, and that of a kind or degree essentially sovereign. A standard is set up in your very thought, by which a great part of your questions are determined, and about which your otherwise random thoughts may settle into order and law.
- Horace Bushnell, p. 199.
- Feeble are we? Yes, without God we are nothing. But what, by faith, every man may be, God requires him to be. This is the only Christian idea of duty. Measure obligation by inherent ability! No, my brethren, Christian obligation has a very different measure. It is measured by the power that God will give us, measured by the gifts and possible increments of faith. And what a reckoning will it be for many of us, when Christ summons us to answer before Him under the law, not for what we are, but for what we might have been.
- Horace Bushnell, p. 202.
- Take your duty, and be strong in it, as God will make you strong. The harder it is, the stronger in fact you will be. Understand, also, that the great question here is, not what you will get, but what you will become. The greatest wealth you can ever get will be in yourself. Take your burdens and troubles and losses and wrongs, if come they must and will, as your opportunity, knowing that God has girded you for greater things than these.
- Horace Bushnell, p. 202.
- Go to your duty, every man, and trust yourself to Christ; for He will give you all supply just as fast as you need it. You will have just as much power as you believe you can have. Be a Christian; throw yourself upon God's work; and get the ability you want in it.
- Horace Bushnell, p. 202.
- Let him who gropes painfully in darkness or uncertain light, and prays vehemently that the dawn may ripen into day, lay this precept well to heart: "Do the duty which lieth nearest to thee," which thou knowest to be a duty! Thy second duty will already have become clearer.
- Thomas Carlyle, p. 203.
- Our grand business is, not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.
- Thomas Carlyle, p. 204.
- Duties are ours; events are God's. This removes an infinite burden from the shoulders of a miserable, tempted, dying creature. On this consideration only, can he securely lay down his head, and close his eyes.
- Richard Cecil, p. 197.
- No man living in deliberate violation of his duty, in willful disobedience to God's commands, as taught by conscience, can possibly make progress in acquaintance with the Supreme Being. Vain are all acts of worship in church or in secret, vain are religious reading and conversation, without this instant fidelity.
- William Ellery Channing, p. 201.
- Submission to duty and God gives the highest energy. He, who has done the greatest work on earth, said that He came down from heaven, not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him, Whoever allies himself with God is armed with all the forces of the invisible world.
- James Freeman Clarke, p. 202.
- When faith and hope fail, as they do sometimes, we must trust charity, which is love in action. We must speculate no more on our duty, but simply do it. When we have done it, however blindly, perhaps Heaven will show us the reason why.
- Dinah Craik, p. 203.
- Whatever our place allotted to us by Providence, that for us is the post of honor and duty. God estimates us, not by the position we are in, but by the way in which we fill it.
- Tryon Edwards, p. 203.
- The reward of one duty is the power to fulfill another.
- George Eliot, p. 198.
- The great point is to renounce your own wisdom by simplicity of walk, and to be ready to give up the favor, esteem, and approbation of every one, whenever the path in which God leads you passes that way.
- François Fénelon, p. 203.
- Brethren, léife is passing; youth goes, strength decays. But duty performed, work done for God — this abides forever, this alone is imperishable.
- Richard Fuller, p. 198.
- Only when the voice of duty is silent, or when it has already spoken, may we allowably think of the consequences of a particular action.
- Guesses at Truth, p. 200.
- When any duty is to be done, it is fortunate for you if you feel like doing it; but, if you do not feel like it, that is no reason for not doing it.
- Washington Gladden, p. 200.
- We should learn never to interpret duty by success. The opposition which assails us in the course of obedience is no evidence that we are mistaken.
- Newman Hall, p. 205.
- The consciousness of duty performed gives us music at midnight.
- George Herbert, p. 200.
- Men must be either the slaves of duty, or the slaves of force.
- Joseph Joubert, p. 200.
- Do to-day's duty, fight to-day's temptation; and do not weaken and distract yourself by looking forward to things which you cannot see, and could not understand if you saw them.
- Charles Kingsley, p. 198.
- He who can at all times sacrifice pleasure to duty approaches sublimity.
- Johann Kaspar Lavater, p. 200.
- A deliberate rejection of duty prescribed by already recognized truth cannot but destroy, or at least impair most seriously the clearness of our mental vision.
- Henry Liddon, p. 201.
- O thou sculptor, painter, poet,
Take this lesson to thy heart;
That is best which lieth nearest;
Shape from that thy work of art.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, p. 203.
- Not infrequently are Christians heard to speak of duties as crosses to be borne; and I am convinced that some among them regard their performance as a complete compliance with the law of self-denial. It is a cross to pray, to speak, to commend Christ to others, to attend church, to frequent the social meetings, and, indeed, to do any thing of a distinctly religious nature. By the force of their will and with the aid of sundry admonitions they bring themselves up to the discharge of those obligations, but, on the whole, they feel that it should entitle them to a place in " the noble army of martyrs." I am sorry to dissipate the comfortable illusion; but I am compelled to assure them that they totally misapprehend the doctrine of our Lord. He said that it was His meat and drink to do the will of His Father; and He never once refers to duty in any other way than as a delight. The cross was something distinct from it.
- George C. Lorimer, p. 204.
- Put thou thy trust in God;
In duty's path go on;
Fix on His word thy steadfast eye;
So shall thy work be done.
- Martin Luther, p. 203.
- There is nothing in the universe I fear but that I shall not know all my duty, or shall fail to do it.
- Mary Lyon, p. 201.
- The doing of things from duty is but a stage on the road to the kingdom of truth and love.
- George MacDonald, p. 199.
- Knowledge is the hill which few may hope to climb;
Duty is the path that all may tread.
- Lewis Morris, p. 198.
- Duty reaches down the ages in its effects, and into eternity; and when the man goes about it resolutely, it seems to me now as though his footsteps were echoing beyond the stars, though only heard faintly in the atmosphere of this world.
- William Mountford, p. 197.
- Christian obligation cannot be made to accord with a law of expediency. The Christian's maxims are, "Do right because you are bound to do right." "Do right though the heavens fall." There is a world of difference between "You had better" and "You are bound to."
- Francis L. Patton, p. 200.
- Let men of all ranks whether they are successful, or unsuccessful, whether they triumph or not — let them do their duty, and rest satisfied.
- Plato, p. 204.
- If the duties before us be not noble, let us ennoble them by doing them in a noble spirit; we become reconciled to life if we live in the spirit of Him who reconciled the life of God with the lowly duties of servants.
- Frederick William Robertson, p. 198.
- Let a man begin in earnest with, "I ought," and he will end, by God's grace, if he persevere, with, "I will." Let him force himself to abound in all small offices of kindliness, attention, affectionateness, and all these for God's sake. By and by he will feel them become the habit of his soul.
- Frederick William Robertson, p. 199.
- The constant duty of every man to his fellows is to ascertain his own powers and special gifts, and to strengthen them for the help of others.
- John Ruskin, p. 198.
- Life is of little value unless it be consecrated by duty.
- Samuel Smiles, p. 198.
- He who is false to present duty breaks a thread in the loom, and will see the defect when the weavingof a life-time is unrolled. Neglect of one duty often renders us unfit for another. God "is a rewarder," and one great principle on which He dispenses His rewards is this — through our faithfulness in one thing He bestows grace upon us to be faithful in another.
- Ichabod Spencer, p. 201.
- The great object of the Christian is duty; his predominant desire, to obey God. When he can please the world consistently with these, he will do so; otherwise it is enough for him that God commands, and enough for them that he cannot disobey.
- Gardiner Spring, p. 197.
- Speak, Lord, our souls are hushed to hear what Thou hast to say to us. Great is the stake, overwhelming may be the risks — most glorious are the opportunities. Speak, Lord, and show us what our duty is — how high, how difficult, yet how happy, how blessed — show us what our duty is, and, O great God and Father, give us strength to do it.
- Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, p. 197.
- Is there no reconciliation of some ancient quarrel, no payment of some long outstanding debt, no courtesy or love or honor to be rendered to those to whom it has long been due; no charitable, humble, kind, useful deed, by which you can promote the glory of God, or good-will among men, or peace upon earth? If there be any such, I beseech you, in God's name, in Christ's name, go and do it.
- Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, p. 204.
- Attention is our first duty whenever we want to know what is our second duty. There is no such cause of confusion and worry about what we ought to do, and how to do it, as our unwillingness to hear what God would tell us on that very point.
- Henry Clay Trumbull, p. 197.
- Do right! and thou hast naught to fear;
Right hath a power that makes thee strong.
The night is dark, but light is near;
The grief is short, the joy is long.
- Thomas Cogswell Upham, p. 201.
- The most fruitful and elevating influence I have ever seemed to meet has been my impression of obligation to God.
- Daniel Webster, p. 199.
- Stern daughter of the voice of God!
- William Wordsworth, p. 201.
Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)
- Let no guilty man escape if it can be avoided. Be specially vigilant—or instruct those engaged in the prosecution of fraud to be—against all who insinuate that they have high influence to protect—or to protect them. No personal consideration should stand in the way of performing a public duty.
- Ulysses S. Grant, endorsement added to letter received July 29, 1875. The exposure of the Whisky Ring, a secret association of distillers and federal officials defrauding the government, was a major scandal in 1875. W. D. W. Barnard, a St. Louis banker, wrote to Grant that officials in St. Louis claimed Grant would sustain them to protect Orville Babcock, his private secretary. Grant added the above endorsement and referred the letter to Benjamin H. Bristow, secretary of the treasury, who led the efforts to expose the ring. Louis A. Coolidge, Ulysses S. Grant (1922), p. 479. Also see John A. Carpenter, Ulysses S. Grant (1970), p. 150 and p. 196, note 5.
- When occasions present themselves, in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection.
- Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist, ed. Benjamin F. Wright (1961), no. 71, p. 459.
- Duty, then is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things … You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.
- Attributed to Robert E. Lee, in a letter to his son, G. W. Custis Lee, dated April 5, 1852, and published in the New York Sun (November 26, 1864), p. 2. Although accepted as authentic by many nineteenth century writers, and used for the inscription under Lee's bust in New York University's Hall of Fame in 1901, repudiation of its authenticity began shortly after its publication, beginning with articles in two Richmond, Virginia, newspapers. The most complete summary of evidence indicating the letter was spurious may be found in Charles Alfred Graves, The Forged Letter of General Robert E. Lee (1914) and its Supplementary Paper (1915).
- The lark is up to meet the sun,
The bee is on the wing;
The ant its la-bor has be-gun,
The woods with music ring.
Shall birds, and bees, and ants, be wise,
While I my mo-ments waste?
O let me with the morn-ing rise,
And to my du-ty haste.
- William Holmes McGuffey, "The lark is up to meet the sun," McGuffey's Eclectic Primer, newly rev., lesson 81, p. 54 (1849).
- We all know our duty better than we discharge it.
- John Randolph of Roanoke; reported in William Cabell Bruce, John Randolph of Roanoke, 1773–1833 (1922, reprinted 1970), vol. 2, chapter 7, p. 205.
- Majesty: when a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty.
- George Bernard Shaw, Caesar and Cleopatra, act III, in Selected Plays with Prefaces, vol. 3, p. 418 (1948). Apollodorus is speaking to Cleopatra.
- There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.
- Robert Louis Stevenson, "An Apology for Idlers," Virginibus Puerisque and Later Essays, p. 88 (1969). Written between 1874–1879.
- We live in an age disturbed, confused, bewildered, afraid of its own forces, in search not merely of its road but even of its direction. There are many voices of counsel, but few voices of vision; there is much excitement and feverish activity, but little concert of thoughtful purpose. We are distressed by our own ungoverned, undirected energies and do many things, but nothing long. It is our duty to find ourselves.
- Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton, baccalaureate address, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey (June 9, 1907); in The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, ed. Arthur S. Link, vol. 17, p. 194.
Critique of Practical Reason
by Immanuel Kant, translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott
- Duty! Thou sublime and mighty name that dost embrace nothing charming or insinuating, but requirest submission, and yet seekest not to move the will by threatening aught that would arouse natural aversion or terror, but merely holdest forth a law which of itself finds entrance into the mind, and yet gains reluctant reverence (though not always obedience), a law before which all inclinations are dumb, even though they secretly counter-work it; what origin is there worthy of thee, and where is to be found the root of thy noble descent which proudly rejects all kindred with the inclinations; a root to be derived from which is the indispensable condition of the only worth which men can give themselves?